Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kena Peay
How Kena Peay Is Changing The Narrative Of Black People And The Outdoors
Social media would like us to believe that hiking, camping, and cooking in the outdoors is something that only non-Black people do–only. But, Washington State native Kena Peay is showing us that’s far from the truth.
Kena grew up around nature and it was literally the backdrop of her childhood, with Mount Rainier being only an hour from her hometown. Once in college, she took an interest in hiking as a way to get a few hours of peace and quiet.
“I feel closer to God when I am near trees and mountains,” Kena told Travel Noire.
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After college, she moved to New York to work in fashion, but missed the mountainous terrain of the West Coast. So, she made her way to California. During a point where she was in between jobs, Kena found a newer love that brought her to frequently cooking at home as a form of therapy. But, she soon found that her cooking skills were more valuable than she thought.
“I went on Craigslist and saw an ad to cook on a reality show. I applied and ended up getting casted for NBC’s Food Fighters. The show put home chefs like myself up against classically trained chefs. I ended up beating them all, and the producers told me I really had the talent to go far in the industry.”
Kena ended up on a few more shows before taking a job with Facebook, and later Google. While working she would host pop-ups and practice her catering skills. But, it was also a really rough year mentally and emotionally.
“I took a year off from everything to reconnect to hiking and focus on self,” Kena said. “I also started creating at-home cooking content for YouTube, but I found that I didn’t want to only cook indoors.”
Instead, she invested in outdoor cooking equipment so that she could merge her two loves— hiking and cooking. She now goes out on her weekend hikes with a small propane burner called a Pocket Rocket, and a few small pans to cook in.
“It brings me so much joy and I’m also staying active in the process.”
Some of her favorite dishes that she’s made so far are shrimp and grits, a mashup of a shrimp po’boy and Banh mi sandwich, cherry pie tacquitos, and a tuna melt inspired by Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap.
“I create food that people can easily recreate and put their own spin on.”
Kena is now what many would call an outdoor and adventure influencer. But, she makes it clear that she is not in this industry to be tokenized.
“I’m disrupting the industry,” she said. “Most people think of outdoor cooks as white men, and there is a lack of diversity in this space. I am bringing more awareness so that companies can diversify their offerings for outdoor adventurers. I am very intentional about having my Black face at the forefront of my content, because we are often overlooked.”
Kena not only creates and shares some amazing recipes from the trails she hikes, but she is also educating her viewers on the disparities and how Black people are often perceived. She thinks of her page as a hiking, cooking, and activism platform.
To catch Kena’s weekend adventures on the trail, and to see what she will create next, you can follow her on Instagram: @kenapeay or on TikTok under the same name.