Light, fresh, and island-inspired. Although these three words rolled off her tongue as an expression of her cuisine, they were also well-suited to describe the chef herself. Bright and early on a rainy Saturday morning, Chef Lee and I became quick friends, discussing her Vincentian roots, the heart of her cuisine and how she is a pioneer in Baltimore’s Vegan Caribbean Movement. Chef Lee’s vibrancy is not only evident in her beautiful and meticulously plated dishes, but also in the way she shares her love of cuisine with the world.
Originally from Kingstown, St. Vincent, Chef Lee got an early start in the food industry shadowing her mother who is a chef and restauranteur. As such, her cooking is heavily influenced by the nostalgic fare of her upbringing. After leaving home and making a move to the United States, Chef Lee admits she became addicted to the Food Network.She notes fondly, “Cooking in the United States felt more refined. As I familiarized myself with more ingredients, I wanted to try them out.”
“Cooking in the United States felt more refined…”
While visiting Caribbean marketplaces provided her with ingredients akin to her home island, Chef Lee began to branch out, exercising her creative muscle in the kitchen to make Caribbean fare with ingredients more popular here in the states. As cooking became a growing passion, Chef Lee eventually took the big leap and enrolled in Escoffier School of Culinary Arts to become a trained chef. During this period, Chef Lee expressed that these experiences did not only elevate her cooking technique, but also how she talks about and describes food as well as the ways in which it can be presented. This was just the beginning of her journey.
Awe-inspired by how effortlessly she built her plates, I was initially drawn to Chef Lee through her Instagram gallery on @platedbyleshe. Of her strategies for plating, she has some standard rules: Your vessel (plate, bowl, slate) is everything. The size, shape and color of the vessel can takeaway or add to a dish. Plate items in odd numbers to draw attention to the dish. Add some color and freshness to create emotion.
“Your vessel is everything.”
Last summer, Chef Lee ventured into a new space alongside her partner, Sherry, launching the Caribbean Silver Palate, a vegan Caribbean Supper Club that features innovative and refined takes on Caribbean cuisine. From intimate three course dinners to small snack buffets featuring Saltfish Fritters, Pumpkin Fritters, and Cheese Sandwiches, Chef Lee’s intent is for each event to be a one of a kind social experience. The Caribbean Silver Palate has a simple recipe, people connect over good food, and get exposed to a different side of Caribbean culture. Each event has grown in popularity, and she looks forward to her next event planned for later this year: Edible Oasis, a culinary tour of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
While being a vegan Caribbean chef may seem like a niche, she has been very successful , emphasizing that her personal style, and flavor profiles are what sets her apart. “Seeing how intrigued [my customers] are by the fact that vegan food could taste this good is always a rewarding experience.”
Constantly thinking outside of the box, like using jackfruit as a replacement for cod or creating or refreshing lemon pasta with vegan butter, Chef Lee has one simple tip for those looking to elevate their vegan cooking game or transition to a vegan lifestyle, “NEVER compromise on FLAVOR!” She explains further “Simply massaging your kale with lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper can add great flavor! Good flavor is the easiest way to transition to a vegan diet.”
“Good flavor is the easiest way to transition to a vegan diet…”
Chef Lee is very optimistic about the future, and she credits her mother’s success and encouragement as her inspiration to keep going. She admits “Sometimes it’s difficult being a vegan chef, and being new to the culinary industry, in a whole different country. Do I sit on with what everyone is doing, or do I just stick to what it is that I really want to do. Sometimes it’s like that.” It’s evident that staying true to herself has contributed greatly to her accomplishments, and will continue to drive her accomplishments in the future.