Better than Ever

Growing up in the rich tradition of Southern comfort food, where meat-and-threes are the foundation for many a meal, Sonia Steele never imagined vegan cooking would be an option. But in 2008, with a diagnosis of non-smokers lung cancer and an unexpected surgery to remove part of her left lung, Sonia found herself searching for a healthful diet change.

“Vegetarian possibilities did not really excite me or cater to my taste for the foods I grew up loving,” Sonia says. However, with a culinary curiosity as fierce as her passion for food, Sonia devoured books on the subject to learn as much as she could about vegetarian options. “It was like I was studying for the bar exam,” she says. “Then I hit the kitchen running.” The beginning was a little rough. “I had a lot of ‘garbage can’ creations,” Sonia says. “Determined not to be defeated, I became successful at duplicating my favorite foods with a vegetarian twist.” Going cold turkey, so to speak, Sonia dedicated herself to a purely vegetarian diet on Thanksgiving of that same year.

Weight loss and years of cancer-free checksups followed. Sonia then became a vegan. Vegan eating means no animal or animal byproducts. No dairy. No eggs. No cheese. No honey. Some of the vegan diet benefits include more energy, healthier skin, weight loss, and improved sleep.

“I am constantly thinking of ways to veganize recipes,” she says. Sharing vegan meals with eager family and friends, Sonia soon found her niche. She opened her catering company, Urban Sweetness, in 2015. “I thought I would exclusively make desserts, but I had such a demand for my savory dishes. They are a focus.” Her specialties include brisket, crab cakes, macaroni and cheese, and sesame cauliflower wings, to name a few.

With Sonia’s flair for kitchen artistry, her creations look like their carnivore counterparts. “A former boss came up with the name ‘Vegan Vicki,’ and I use that moniker to this day.”

Sonia’s cookbook, 30 Days Vegan, was released this year. She also just tied with University Hospitals chef John Selick for best vegetarian chef at the Cleveland Garlic Festival this past September.

“When asked about my culinary background, I always say I am from my mother’s kitchen,” Sonia says. Preparing huge family meals was a priceless education. “My mother’s golden rule was to build flavor by seasoning every layer of a dish and absolutely taste as you go. I treasure the connection with my family. I not only learned how to cook but I learned to love, laugh, and give. When I am in the kitchen, I am never there alone.”

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