Kenya Templeton is a force of wonder. You may know her face from Viva Raw, a raw bites juicerey located in 7th Street Public Market. After being an employee there for a few months, she was recently promoted to customer care and market manager.
This is the thing: Kenya knows her shit. I should know after working under her as my manager at Healthy Home Market on South Boulevard circa 2011. She was the manager of the vitamin department there, which, as in most health-food stores, carried the whole establishment. Former employee Elisha Covington credits Templeton with teaching her “pretty much everything I know about health.“
Since my working with her in a formal setting, I’ve come to know Kenya in another way: the go-to international food expert of the city. Kenya knows food in a way I’ve never seen. Not just a purveyor of plates, she cooks her ass off with ease. She rattles off multilingual names of dishes with sheer beauty, leaving you curious, intrigued and starving.
I sat down with her to know more.
You ever met someone, stayed in touch for 10 years, watched them do amazing things, only to realize you know nothing about them?
I wanted to be learned so I asked about her upbringing, cycling, natural health and, well — we talked about a lot. In fact, you’re going to have to go to qcnerve.com to catch the full version of our convo.
Jasiatic Anderson: You’ve got a long resume. What are the things people around Charlotte know you for?
Kenya Templeton: “Vitamin Lady” at Healthy Home Market on South Boulevard or Central Avenue, Sprouts or Earth Fare Concord; former organizer of Charlotte Natural Hair Meetup Group; founder of Charlotte Natural Hair Education Week; that big girl that be dancing and sanging at Soulful Noel (see Lifewave); co-founder and organizer, Queen City EZ Riders Slow Biking Gang; the Black lady that bikes all over Charlotte and is car-free by choice; designer of the sashiko and patchwork coat that won the first Repurposed Fashion Show; and Urban Girl Granola World, my former brand name and IG account.
What do they not know about you, but should?
I am from Statesville, North Carolina, not New York City. Born in Heidelberg, Germany. I am an eco-fashion designer with emphasis on denim, upholstery fabric, leather, and bicycle parts. I am knowledgeable of some of the best world cuisine eats in Charlotte and NYC. I am rebranding and relaunching my company, Kenya Templeton Designs (formerly Ethnopolitan Clothing and Design), in early 2021. I do black history bicycle tours in Charlotte and am working to expand to other cities.
My company is called Brooklyn South 704, as an ode to the place that feels the most like home to me: Brooklyn, NY, and the former Brooklyn neighborhood in Uptown Charlotte.Follow “Kenya Templeton Does” on IG and FB where you can see all my cycling, foodie, eco-fashion, alternative transportation equity advocacy, and natural health/living content. For my singing and acting information, follow “Kenya Templeton Performs.”
I know that “black people look alike,” but I am not Dianna Ward, CEO/founder of Charlotte Tours and executive director of Charlotte Joyrides.
How would you describe yourself?
Citified country gal with crunchy granola tendencies and world travel dreams always looking for an adventure involving food, cycling, music, dancing learning, educating, and healing. Child molestation and rape thriver. I am beyond surviving that shit now.
My nephew says that I am the auntie with a house that is cool like an upscale drug den, cooking crazy food, scolding you, and loving on you at the same time. I feel that is the most accurate description anyone has ever said about me.
What’s your favorite thing to make from a garden?
Anything soup. I eat soups all year. My favorites are West African mafe (peanut stew) and any southeast Asian curry, especially massaman.
What’s your favorite place to eat vegetables in Charlotte?
My house. I find that most menus in Charlotte are limited with vegan and vegetarian options that are not redundant with other restaurants in the area. Plus, I like spices. I eat little American food, so vegan restaurants often bore me and do not have enough seasoning. I have over three shelves of spices in my spice cabinet and grow herbs in my flower beds. With COVID, Freshlist and The Produce Box have been delivering local organic produce and foodstuffs to me. I pick stuff I have not ever had when possible so I can explore.
If I had to pick a restaurant, I would say Enat Ethiopian, Jimmy Pearls, or Kebab-Je. Those are my go-to spots for plant-based meals with soul and seasoning. Both Enat and Kebab-Je have huge veggie platters that are so good I usually dance and hum when I eat them.
What are three places to eat in the Charlotte area that people probably don’t know, but should?
Lam’s Kitchen in Matthews is my favorite place for authentic Chinese food. It reminds me of late nights and holidays I spent eating in Chinatown, NYC. Plenty of vegetables for those that are plant-based. I do not cook a lot of meat at home, so I look forward to places that cook meat well. This is one of the only places I eat pork other than bacon. I normally get long beans, soft-shell crab, and tender greens.
Thai Tamarind in Monroe is the freshest tasting Thai in the area. Their naam kao — crispy rice with spicy lime pork and veggies — is one of my favorite dishes in the area. I also love their Pat Thai and panang curry in the veggie version. I wish they were closer to my home because I would go several times a month.
Grand Asia Market in Stallings was my go-to for Asian food shopping and authentic cuisine. I am a sucker for Hong Kong-style pastries like moon cake, egg tart, tuna bun, wife cake, red bean bun, taro bun, sachima, jian deui/sesame balls, and curry bun. Pick up a bubble tea, smoothie, milk tea, dim sum (on Saturday and Sunday). Then head around the corner for a full array of Chinese meat and veggie dishes and one of my favorites, Peking duck. If you go around the back of the bakery case, a view window is in place to watch sweet and savory goodies be made. I think it is one of the singularly most magical places in the Charlotte area.
Umph, all the places I love the best are not in Charlotte. I never thought about it until now. What does that say about Charlotte?
How important is family tradition and ancestry with foods you prepare?
I am the black sheep of my family. Therefore, I am estranged from most of them. In addition, I am the only non-Christian in my family. I converted to Judaism at a conservative synagogue in Brooklyn, NY, in 2005. In Black families, if you are not Christian or Muslim, they do not have a clue as to what your religious traditions are and will not make a point to learn them.
My family hosted bid whist nights, parties, fish fries, and cookouts. When I was in NY, I hosted many a Shabbos meal before going to Friday night service. Grilling and smoking is not limited to special events. My father will smoke a whole fillet of salmon and I will make the vegetables. This is dinner on Tuesday. My mother is the best cook I know. She cooks different cuisines. She bakes. She is very experimental. I do the same. If you come for dinner or a party at my house, you need to have an adventurous palette. Do not expect chips, meatballs, crudite, or seven-layer dip. My cheese boards have vegan cheese with fennel, lime, chipotle cashew cheese. They ain’t ready.
So, I guess I am continuing the family tradition of not being a stereotypical Black Southern family. We do not allow limitations. I cook and eat what I want when I want it. Just like my favorite Thanksgiving meal was when we had Chinese ginger chicken stir fry with rice and veggies, orange broccoli, fried apple wontons, egg rolls, and ginger lemon iced tea.
I have been learning to make the traditional foods of my childhood. I am going to make corn pudding for Chanukah as an ode to my maternal grandmother, Zelma Johnson. My paternal grandmother, Katie, makes cherry yum-yum, persimmon pudding, and chow-chow. I made a few jars of a deconstructed version of her chow-chow and it was fire.
Each year I make vegan mafe (West African groundnut/peanut stew) on New Year’s Day. I incorporate the classic Southern New Year’s traditions of black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread into a non-traditional version.
For Chanukah I make stewed apples and sweet potato latkes. Deviled eggs, chicken bone, stewed apples, and turnip/crissy greens are on my Passover Seder plate instead of the usual suspects. This merges Jewish and Southern Black tradition.
What are your most important health regimens?
I have been a certified natural health practitioner for almost 20 years and working in the natural products industry for over 25 years. I follow an Ayurvedic practice and keep in tune with my body. I only eat certain foods during certain seasons based on my dosha — forces that create your physical body.
In addition, I meditate, journal, eat approximately 85-95% plant-based foods in my diet, ride my bicycles for exercise, pray, and keep crystals on me daily. I do a 30-day cleanse each spring and fall. I do a lot of grounding in the woods, especially when I forage and gather evergreens to make smudge sticks. For the past two summers I have been going car camping several times a month. I need that for my sanity. I am in therapy weekly. Dry brushing keeps my hidradenitis suppurativa (slow lymphatic circulation).
My daily supplement regimen consists of an adaptagenic herb, CBD oil, essential fatty acids, vitamin D drops, and something for immunity. I have not used an over-the-counter or pharmaceutical drug in over 15 years.
I drink 32 ounces of hot tea daily. Next year I am getting back into lifting weights, off-road cycling, and tennis drills for exercise.
Tell me about your relationship and love for bikes.
My dad is a bicycle mechanic among a list of other things he knows how to do. Like father, like daughter. My sister and I are daddy’s girls. I am about the mechanical and creative stuff he does, so I would help him build things out of wood, do electrical work, trim hedges, fix car/bicycles, and repair appliances.
We always had the best Schwinn bikes from Riddles Schwinn Shop in Statesville. My dad would see an old bike, take it apart, clean the parts, paint the frame and reassemble it. Other Black families also had great Schwinn bikes from Riddle’s, and we would often do multi-family rides on Sundays. It was nothing for my dad to ride his bike to work or to the mall.
When my parents divorced, this meant there was only one parent to take me to extracurricular activities. In addition, I was tired of kids picking on me on the school bus. I told my mother I did not want to ride the bus anymore and she told me I still had to get to school knowing she could not take me as she left for work as a teacher before we caught the bus. So, I took her 10-speed bike and started biking to school and riding to piano lessons, track practice, choir rehearsal, and work. I had a freedom the other kids did not have.
In addition, I was being molested by a family member that lived in our home and helped with transporting us to activities. Riding my bike made me less dependent and distant from him.
Cycling provided freedom. My mother did not care what I did if it was not a crime and did not embarrass her. I would go to the music store, Riddle’s, the tennis courts, the library, the arcade, and the swimming pool to learn and be free.
After my bicycle was stolen in college and I had a car, I got away from cycling. When I moved to Long Island, I wanted to bike the trails along the beaches, so I got a Specialized Hardrock. Then I discovered the forests in Orange County, NY, and would take my bike when I shopped Woodbury Commons. Then I dated a guy that biked and started back into cycling for transportation in Brooklyn. When I moved back to NC, I lost my job and turned in my car to save money. I biked as my main transportation for eight years in Davidson and Charlotte. I got a car in 2019, but there was always a bicycle in or on it. My car died Thanksgiving week, so I am back on my bike.
It is different since I had COVID back in March and have gained weight. I had planned to take a train and bicycle trip cross country in July, but the pandemic hit. I will be biking more to prepare for the rescheduled trip. Plus, I am writing a book about how cycling has saved my life from depression, molestation, financial devastation, and health issues. The bicycle is a highly underrated form of transportation and we take it for granted in American society. The bicycle could be part of the plan to rid [our country of] homelessness, classism, gentrification, and other societal ills. The problem is that politicians and corporate America will not make any money off that, so they think.
What are/were your winter holiday traditions?
My mother had Christmas trees in our bedrooms and the living room. There were lights in all the windows in the front and the street-facing side of our house. Originally, we had Christmas ornaments from Germany on our trees and nutcrackers in our bedrooms. My mother is all about the fanfare of Christmas and my sister liked it. My dad and I do not do holidays, but we had to play along for sanity in the home. Then when I was 5 years old, we made salt dough ornaments for the trees based on a set of “12 Days of Christmas” cookie cutters she had found. This took weeks to do as we had to make the dough, stamp the ornaments, bake them, allow them to fully dry, paint them, and shellac them. That was when I really began to hate Christmas.
When my parents divorced, my mother began to collect black Hallmark ornaments and angels. We always visited a Hallmark store when we traveled. My mother knew when shipments were coming to K-Mart and other stores to have first dibs on black angel stuff. She followed certain artisans that made black angel figurines. I always thought it was ridiculous.
My task was to pull the trees, gift wrap, ribbon, and ornaments from under the foyer steps in the basement. I did not understand why I had to do this when I did not care about these decorations. When I was in junior high, she switched to live trees. In high school, I would go into the woods with my boyfriend to locate a tree for her. My junior year he and I found the most beautiful fluffy pine tree. I have never seen a tree like it since. When we brought it into the house, my mother clowned us for how big the tree was. I trimmed it and still thought it was a sight to behold, but my mother continued to clown until her friends remarked about how beautiful it was. I was officially done with Christmas for life after that experience.
When I got my first apartment in college, my mother bought me a Christmas tree. I have yet to understand that purchase. I did try to make some ornaments and garland to decorate it so that she could see I made effort. I put it up that one time and when I left Pittsburgh, I gave the tree to a family in need there. That was the end of Christmas for me.
I have been singing since I was a kid. I was hired by a Jewish family to sing Christmas songs for their Christmas Day party with my musical mentor, William “Bo” Shuford. I loved it and that is how I learned about European Jewish culture and food. I sang “O Holy Night” and “God So Loved the World” each year at various churches. The music of Christmas I love.
In 2013 I attended a jazz jam session at Petra’s and sang in Charlotte for my first time on a dare by my friend, Wendy. Quentin Talley happened to be there that night and asked me to join You Are Now On Q for a production. The next year I performed at Soulful Noel at McGlohon Theatre and that has become my tradition each year. I adore the song “Favorite Things” and have sung a soulful house and jazz version of it. This year I am changing things up for our performances at Middle C Jazz Club and Camp North End. I sing music. I am not a jazz or classical singer. I’m about to show that to people this year at our show.
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