Mariah Ragland fell in love with cooking as a child in her mom’s kitchen in Knoxville. She helped out, marveling as they cooked everything from coq au vin for a French class project to peanut chicken for a family Kwanzaa feast.
Ragland started cooking again when she became a vegan years later. Vegan ingredients were easily found at grocery stores, but she could never recapture the feelings — and the flavors — she experienced as a kid.
“It’s hard to know what to do with the food that you do find,” Ragland said. “You’re like, ‘Okay, I see all these veggies, but what the heck am I going to do with it?'”
With Radical Rabbit, Ragland thinks she’s found the answer. The vegan soul food pop-up offers gumbo to buffalo macaroni and cheese — made entirely with plant-based ingredients.
The Fisk University alumna, now 27, started the company cooking in her home kitchen, but now uses space at Citizen Kitchens commissary in East Nashville. She’s celebrating her third year in business this month.
“‘Vegan soul food.’ People hear that, and they’re like, ‘What the heck? You can’t veganize soul food,'” she said. “You can.”
Instead of buffalo chicken wings, Radical Rabbit sells fried jackfruit slathered with sauces or rubs. “Cheezeburger eggrolls” are made with lentils, onions, peppers, vegan cheese and house-made sauces for dipping. She’s even made a vegan version of the peanut chicken recipe she made as a child, using cauliflower rather than meat.
Ragland said her dishes are an opportunity to explore, whether you’re new to vegan food, new to soul food or both.
An order of fried jackfruit wings is $6. “People do come from different parts of town or from different walks of life where they cannot pay $10 for six pieces of meatless wings,” Ragland said. “As long as I have enough to continue this work and pay my bills, why not make sure that everyone has access to the food?”
Radical Rabbit is available at several farmers’ markets in Nashville, including A&M Marketplace, Richland Park Farmer’s Market and Citizen Market. Ragland’s goal is to have multiple brick-and-mortar locations someday, and she said she’s already in meetings to secure her first.
“Vegan food is for everyone,” she said, adding: “Closed minds don’t get fed, and closed mouths don’t get fed.”
Cole Villena covers business at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network — Tennessee. Reach Cole at [email protected] or 615-925-0493. Follow Cole on Twitter at @ColeVillena and on Instagram at @CVinTennessee.