Milwaukee, Wisc. native Adjoa Courtney, better known by her fans and followers as Chef Joya, is a vegan chef and growing culinary sensation. She’s carried a passion for food ever since she was a young girl, and being vegan was something instilled in her by her grandmother, with whom she would help to prepare meals in the kitchen.
Joya started her cooking career by hosting gatherings for her friends and family where she would wow them with her culinary skills. What they were most fascinated by was that while her meals were 100 percent vegan, many of her recipes would traditionally require some sort of animal protein. From common dishes like mac & cheese to soul food to international cuisine, her flair for veganizing has made her quite the culinary icon in the Southeast.
Feeling inspired by how much her friends and family enjoyed her meals and their dining experiences, Joya decided to start sharing her recipes online through vlogging and social media where she would host cooking lessons. Earlier this year, Joya released the first in a series of e-cookbooks, “It’s Soul Mahmazing,” and continues her journey of sharing her artistic ingenuity of turning simple recipes into vegan-style goodness.
qnotes recently met up with Joya to chat about her career as a chef and see what all the buzz is about. She also shared a little about what she does when not being a chef and growing culinary sensation.
QN: What’s it like being a culinary sensation?
I’m naturally shy so it’s exciting that my creativity and originality is being noticed and inspiring others! It feels like I have a whole bunch of new best friends.
QN: How was it going from an everyday normal person to becoming a public figure?
I don’t really consider myself a public figure. I’ve always been a people person and I love cooking and educating about vegan cuisine, but it still throws me off when people get super excited when they meet me and want hugs and photos. When they start screaming, I’m looking around too because I don’t think they’re screaming for me. It’s super flattering. I’m still getting used to the newfound recognition.
QN: How did you adjust to the fame?
Honestly, I’m still adjusting. I appreciate the acknowledgement, but I’m hiding inside. It’s a very new feeling for me.
QN: Can you give me a snapshot of your day from start to finish?
I usually start my day at 7:30 a.m. by responding to all my social media inquiries and notifications. I’m constantly booking private dinners and creating menus for private clients. Then it’s time to post on Instagram and all my other platforms. After that I start brainstorming about new content. Now that I’m on TikTok that’s another type of audience, but I’m doing well with engagement so I’m happy. It’s a vastly different platform and takes a lot of time to create for it. People don’t realize how much work goes into creating social media content. I’m a real-life chef with lots of clients, but I still find the time to create content and do pop ups. It’s a lot, but I love making people happy with my food both online and off.
I’m also a mother and I have a partner so I must fit them into my day as well.
Family is important to me and it’s the driving force behind what I do so even if it’s only 30 minutes, I’m going to find a way to prioritize their needs and spend some quality time with them.
All day I’m responding to clients and inquiries, cooking, and creating content, so I’m exhausted by the end of each day.
QN: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The people! I love it when someone eats my food and has a happy heart and a full tummy! I love bringing that wow factor and how people’s minds are blown when they have my food. I love a challenge so when people don’t think a dish can be veganized, I love to show them that it can and be delicious too.
QN: What does being vegan mean to you?
Making conscious choices about avoiding animal products for the betterment of my health and the environment.
QN: What are some of your favorite places to dine?
My house when my mother comes into town because she’s cooking, lol… Other than that, I love Vietnamese food.
QN: What’s your home life like?
I’m a mother of four. I have three boys whose ages are 13, 17, and 19 and my daughter is 16 (wow, I know). My girlfriend Ava and I have been together for six months and it has been the most beautiful space that anyone can ask for.
QN: What did you do professionally prior to becoming a chef?
I’ve been a professional makeup artist for 15 years, and I’ve worked with many production companies for national networks and media outlets, several celebrities, and major corporations. In my early 20s, I was an art and dance teacher.
QN: In addition to culinary arts, what are some other ways you like being creative?
I’ve always been an artist since I was a child. Not only am I a chef and a professional makeup artist, but I’m also a visual artist. I’ve loved the arts since I was a young child. I love painting and have a small art gallery in my home.
QN: What are your plans for the future in terms of profession and career? Is there anything outside the culinary sector you’d like to pursue?
I can’t imagine doing anything else. My goal is to be a TV chef and perhaps open a quaint fine-dining space when I’m older. Who knows, maybe I’ll even open an art gallery when I retire from cooking.
QN: What prompted you to relocate to Charlotte, N.C., and what other places have you lived?
I wanted to raise my sons in a different environment. My brothers also came here for college and never left, so I figured this place must be awesome. I’ve also lived in Virginia.
QN: How did you develop your logo design and what was your inspiration behind the incorporation of a unicorn?
My logo is inspired by my best friend, Jessica, who passed away in 2016. I would call her unicorn and she would call me fairy. We would always cook together and have great meals with our families. When I became a chef, I wanted to make sure I kept her spirit alive in everything I did, so I incorporated the unicorn with a chef hat into my logo. She was my right hand.
QN: What are your favorite and least-favorite dishes to prepare?
I really enjoy preparing colorful foods, I don’t even want to eat it. I love how it looks. My least favorite thing to make is mac & cheese, lol. I’ve made it so much that I’m over it. It’s my most requested dish.
QN: If you could have a lifetime supply of one food item, what would it be and why?
Taccccooooosssss! I absolutely love Tacos. I could easily eat a taco for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have more than 50 taco recipes.