You might not recognize the name Sepsenahki Aahkhu, but you definitely know her clients. Known professionally as “Chef Ahki,” the Atlanta-based vegan’s first high-profile job was working in Paris as Lenny Kravitz’s personal chef. From there, Chef Ahki returned to the United States and propelled herself into a career as a celebrity chef who worked with other high-profile personalities such as Salma Hayek, Bradley Cooper, Lee Daniels, and Wendy Williams. In addition to working as a chef, Ahki also spends her time as an author and activist, and the basis of her work is rooted in urban communities, where she educates and empowers people of color to reclaim their health and heritage through indigenous and wild foods. This work is one reason why, in November, Toyota recognized Chef Ahki as a change ambassador and influencer for the city of Atlanta. As an Oklahoma native, Chef Ahki takes pride in her ancestral connection to Mother Earth through her Choctaw and Cherokee lineage but credits Atlanta for furthering her reach as a plant-based cook and activist.
Social media star
Chef Ahki’s culinary career began as an unpaid intern at a colonic spa in Atlanta. Realizing that her clients were returning to cleanse but not making improved dietary choices, she began blogging recipes and teaching vegan cooking classes.
Working in her grandparents’ garden was a fond childhood memory of hers. “I traveled 25 minutes every Sunday to work in their farm in preparation for Sunday dinner by shucking peas and picking berries, fresh plums, and pears for pies,” Ahki says. Watching family members suffer from poor dietary choices made veganism a tactic of survival for Ahki and others who come from urban communities where poverty and homelessness are more visible concerns than animal welfare. “I was never motivated by animal rights like others,” Ahki said, “but I do love horses.”
Healthy and happy
With health and longevity as her primary motivations, you’re not likely to see Chef Ahki binging on faux-meat burgers and soy milkshakes. Instead, she promotes an “electric diet” that is based on non-hybrid, alkaline foods. With a focus on a return to home cooking, many of her dishes include her beloved butternut squash, hemp seed “tofu,” black quinoa, spelt, and chayote, or Mexican squash. Though her early days of veganism started with fast-food bean burritos and fries, her first cookbook, Electric: A Modern Guide to Non-Hybrid and Wild Foods, shows her 20-year dietary evolution toward raw and cooked foods that grow as nature intended (without genetic engineering or manipulation). Some of her favorite recipes include carob smoothies, collard wraps, and raw key lime pie.
More than cookbooks
Beyond cookbooks and creating recipes, Chef Ahki is also a speaker and educator. With a special connection to other women of color, she leads healing retreats, speaks at conferences, and works to make plant-based eating relevant to her community. Of particular concern to her is the unprecedented rise in reproductive disorders plaguing women. Her second cookbook, The Fibroid Elimination Recipe Guide, focuses on the healing power of food for relieving the challenges of infertility, endometriosis, and other hormone-related conditions. “I’ve gotten emails from food networks and cooking channels for meat-cooking competitions, which is not even an option,” Ahki says. “My whole brand is built on being plant-based. I cook to cure, not for entertainment.” Instead, Chef Ahki develops online courses and YouTube videos that invite viewers into her kitchen to see how she hacks plant-based eating to be as fly as her fashion sense.
Reaching the hip-hop generation
If you didn’t recognize the chef featured in the music video for PETA’s 2017 Vegan Song of the Year, it was none other than Chef Ahki serving the macaroni and cheese. She is as comfortable in the kitchen as she is networking, educating, and managing her company Delicious Indigenous. Reflecting on her brand, Ahki admits that she intentionally crafts her work to reach individuals that mainstream vegan marketing doesn’t generally target. “We like things that are sexy and upscale, and we generally spend on things that add value and make us look good,” Ahki says. “This is why we respond to ‘Hip Hop is Green’ movements or when personalities like Jay Z, Beyoncé, and Waka Flocka Flame eat vegan. We don’t respond to sickness because we’re so used to it already. We have to feel a connection, and we don’t often connect to a ‘crunchy’ or ‘hippie’ approach to veganism.”
Chantal Blake is a freelance writer and unschooling mom of two from New York City.