Cametria Hill is a chef, food photographer, cookbook author, and content creator from Houston, TX, home of the four best foods on earth: soulfood, BBQ, Cajun and Mexican. Cam utilizes this lineage and prides herself on innovating these dishes with a plant-based twist by transforming vegetables into ways that are inconceivable. She has honed the skills she was taught by her grandmother in restaurants and kitchens all over NYC.
One obstacle to introducing people to vegan or paleo cuisine is the mental anticipation that something is going to taste different or mushy or not as good.
Initially when I started out eating vegetarian I wasn’t eating the best so I wasn’t getting the [weight loss] results I necessarily wanted, but when I decided to make a change I got really passionate about learning more about vegan eating and researching vegan cooking institutes in New York and their curriculum. I eventually went on to cook at a bunch of vegan restaurants in NYC, namely Cinnamon Snail under Chef Adam Sobel. So it’s been over 12 years of education and working in both the front and back end of restaurants.
My initial turn into veganism was supposed to be a 90-day-detox after gaining a lot of weight and feeling sluggish after the holidays in 2012. My coworker was one of those gaunt vegans but he was always so happy and never sick and he encouraged me to give it a try. I did a lot of research on it and realized I could never go back. Moving to New York and being exposed to a larger variety of cuisines, like Greek and Ethiopian food that don’t necessarily rely heavily on meat, spurred me to experiment more with my flavor palette and different types of food, which is where my shift to veganism took place.
I had a lot of chronic health issues when I was younger, but my doctors never told me that these can often be remedied by eating properly. I became more passionate about sharing this information with people through creative cooking via catering, pop-ups and cookbooks, which have given me more freedom to teach people how to spice up their foods and have fun with vegetables.
Do you think vegans or the people who hire you are more concerned about being in good health or just not eating meat?
I think it’s a little bit of both within the vegan population, but I am hired because my food is different and because I don’t like to use tofu and soy-based products very much. I make everything from scratch and repurpose fruits and vegetables, using the entire plant both in savory ways and transforming them into things that are reminiscent of foods that people ate when they were meat eaters, or when they’re trying to appease a bunch of people that are meat eaters.
How can I make my veggies more interesting or better-tasting?
I call it “star and char” where I make whatever vegetable I’m using be the star of the meal and highlight what’s cool about it. With the char, I like to cut and marinate vegetables almost like a steak or a piece of meat, then put them directly on a grill or in a broiler to seal in flavors. Marinades go a long way with vegetables, and textures are very important as well. Marinades can also be reused to top off a dish after it’s finished, since you’re not cooking with meat and you don’t have to worry about contamination.
What are your go-to prepared protein alternatives?
Tempeh… Cauliflower… If I’m making a dish that doesn’t have a lot of protein, I’ll add nutritional yeast, or quinoa, or encrust something in walnuts… Seitan… Bean cakes or black-eyed-pea cakes…