Adjoa Courtney, or Chef Joya as many know her, has been interested in cooking since she was a little girl. The Milwaukee native relocated to Charlotte, NC in 2011 and her pop-up vegan events are quickly becoming a fan favorite across the Southeast.

When she’s not hosting her events, she’s busy preparing for the release of her new cookbook tentatively entitled “The Vegan Unicorn Chef.” It’s a must-read for those transitioning or thinking about transitioning to a plant-based diet or vegan lifestyle. She even gives those that are already vegan, some great options to add in to their routine.

Photo courtesy of Chef Joya

We had the chance to catch up with her to learn how she got her start and what’s next for the busy chef.

Travel Noire: How did you get your start as a chef?

Chef Joya: I received the most practice with my family and friends; I’d invite them over for dinners and brunches just so they could try my different creations. Social media also played a big part. I started posting photos of the food that I would make on Instagram and Facebook. After a while, my followers started requesting videos, live classes, actual meal preps, so then at that point, I began to do it all.

Photo courtesy of Chef Joya

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TN: What led you to cook vegan dishes versus non-vegan cuisine?

Chef Joya: It’s a funny story. I grew up vegan so I know a lot of old school vegan techniques that the majority of people don’t know about. After about a year of trying to find a mentor, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Lisa Brooks who was willing to take me under her wing. She had recently become vegan so I decided to bring her some of my food.  I cooked some of my specialties for her — Bean Curd Ribs, Curry “Chicken,” and Raw Lasagna. After only one taste of each entree, she immediately said to me “Joya this is your niche; there isn’t any vegan food in the city Charlotte that I’ve ever tasted like this.”

I was shocked because I thought all vegans ate like that. I was raised on good vegan food, so I figured it was normal. Since starting my culinary career, I’m considered one of the best vegan chefs in Charlotte and many would say in all of the south east.

Photo courtesy of Chef Joya

TN: What are some of your most requested dishes?

Chef Joya: Hands down, my Mac & Cheez! I’ve won numerous awards for my vegan mac & cheese recipe. That’s definitely one of the major things I’m known for in this city. Some of my other signature items are my Sauced Up Ribz, Empanadas, Vegan Oxtail Tips, Black & White Greens and Bourbon Peach Cobbler.

Photo courtesy of Chef Joya

TN: What do you have coming up?

Chef Joya: I have so much in the works, and I’m so excited about this journey. You can always look for my pop-up event called “Where’s Joya”  where my followers find out my location only two days prior to where I’m going to be to receive an amazing spread. I have plans to have my next one in Atlanta. Coming up, I have the following events in Charlotte:

  • July 14; 11am-2pm “Sunday Brunch with Chef Joya”  
  • July 21; 5:30 pm “Curated with Chef Joya: An exploration of Gullah Cuisine”
  • July 22 “Southern Comfort: A Healthy Hearty Brunch with a Vegan Twist Cooking Class”  
Photo courtesy of Chef Joya

TN: Any advice for other aspiring Black women chefs out there?

Chef Joya: What I tell women who are inspired by my journey is to stay true to what they’re doing and that they always remember their why for pursuing their dreams. Passion is my driving force behind my work and that energy comes out in both my personality and my food. Your passion will make itself heard, it will be a voice for itself.  Don’t wait for opportunities–create them and the demand will follow.

TN: Where can we find you and your events online?

Chef Joya: Find me, on Instagram and Twitter: @cookingwithjoya, or Facebook.