Chef Cat of Terra Flora is innovating vegan flavors at ‘Harvest Up’ dinners

By Stephanie Hoyt

January 23, 2017

For Brian “Chef Cat” Williams, owner of Terra Flora, veganism means more than abstaining from the use of animal products. For Brian, it has been a journey, exploring ancient cultures throughout the world, attending culinary school to study plant-based fine dining in California and improving upon his personal health. Adapting to a mostly raw food diet helped Chef Cat lose over 100 pounds, adding even more inspiration for starting his own company. The cuisine at Terra Flora encompasses modern presentation, global inspiration and living science to create wholesome and sustainable vegan experiences. Chef Cat has even developed his own vegetable based probiotics, which he uses to make the company’s non dairy cheeses and desserts.

Terra Flora is presenting its vision of healthy, vegan fine dining to Charlotte by hosting “Harvest Up!” dinners, showcasing local farmers and modern cooking techniques. For January’s dinner, Chef Cat will indulge diners with a feeling of winter comfort by bringing smoky flavors to each dish. The dinner will feature many of their nut-based cheeses, including creamy macadamia chevre, smoky cashew cheddar and decadent white truffle whipped cashew cheese. Diners will also enjoy Terra Flora’s creamy, probiotic non-dairy frozen yogurt paired with sweet potato pancake puffs in the dessert course.

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Photo credit: Brian “BT” Twitty

We caught up with Chef Cat to discuss this month’s Harvest Up dinner, Charlotte’s vegan scene and his future plans for Terra Flora.

CLTure: What originally inspired you to start Terra Flora?

Chef Cat (Brian Williams): I originally started Terra Flora after a five-year vegan journey that saved my health, took off around 100 lbs and showed me a new world of global plant-based classics. In 2014 I attended Matthew Kenny culinary academy in Venice, Ca. to gain a better understanding of fine dining and raw cuisine. After returning home, I wanted to form a company that would strive to tell the whole story of plant-based food, from the international grandma classics ranging from Thai curries to Mole, all the way to fine dining and modern techniques. Through all the popups and events we have really refined our recipes and focus while also growing into a small family business. My partner Maya Henderson still helps with booking nine months into cooking up our first little plant-based cadet!

It’s a balance between reaching far and also being grateful for all the amazing things here. Our farmers and their incredible work, and our inspirational restaurateurs in our Windsor park neighborhood (Shout out to Tephra, Move that Dough, and Nourish).

CLTure: What sets Terra Flora apart?

Chef Cat: The third corner of our triangle after modern presentation and global inspiration is the wonderful, living science of fermentation. We developed our own probiotics for fermenting cheeses from nuts, sour and sweet dessert sauces, and even fully raw and probiotic frozen yogurts! We believe it’s a fundamental part of the human experience and key to moving away from chemical preservation back to more sustainable and more delicious food. Also, who wouldn’t rather eat amazing probiotic cuisine instead of expensive freeze dried pills with shaky backing? Cheese, wine and kimchi or bust!

CLTure: How did the Harvest Up pop-up dinners get started? What was your intention when creating the dinner?

Chef Cat: Harvest Up started out of the desire to directly showcase the work of our local farmers through our vision of healthy, sustainable fine dining. We have provided a lot of our internationally inspired foods for Advent events in the past and also spoke there as part of their entrepreneurial series so we’ve always loved their space and seen their members as good folks in the community. It was a natural fit!

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Photo credit: Brian “BT” Twitty

CLTure: Where did the idea for a smoke-themed dinner come from? What can people be excited about?

Chef Cat: The idea of the smoke dinner really came from not having a farmer to work with in January! Most of our normal guys were hit hard by the ice and our turnip/root veg man is on vacay! We decided to showcase the flavor of smoke as a tribute to winter comfort, reminiscent of crackling fires and warm dinners with the family at home. I’m really looking forward to the smoked cheddar on the sourdough and also the smoked olives in the first course, plus smoked frozen yogurt?? It’s all gonna be good.

CLTure: What are some strengths and weaknesses you see in Charlotte’s vegan scene?

Chef Cat: I definitely see a lot of new things popping up and a couple well known faces in the community upping their game which is awesome. Glad to see more folks developing originality in their own brand and efforts, it is a craft afterall if we are talking about the professional culinary specifically. Weakness? Maybe not enough global soul food being represented. Thai, Mexican, Lebanese, Nigerian, where are you? We hope to change that down the line for sure not only with TF, but also with some collaboration events we will be sure to keep you in the loop on.

CLTure: What does the future hold for both Terra Flora and the plant-based produce industry?

Chef Cat: Terra Flora is looking into retail storefront possibilities with brunch and dinner service. We foresee cold case space for our boutique produce like cheeses and mustards, and also our frozen yogurt that we are SO EXCITED about! Simple elegance, ease and access. As always we want to provide the balance of traditional foods with a thousand years behind them, and modern cuisine with beautiful presentation.

In the meantime we will continue Harvest Up and our other pop-ups. Also, our products can be purchased for order/pickup at Cedar Land Grocer (you can order on Thursday at callingchefcat@gmail.com and pick up from Cedar Land on Monday). Our full menu is on our Facebook page.

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Photo credit: Brian “BT” Twitty

If you want to learn more about plant based cuisine, international flavors, experience the taste of cold smoking techniques or just enjoy good food and great company, join Terra Flora on Sunday, January 29th at Advent Coworking for a unique 5 course dinner that is sure to impress both omnivores and herbivores alike.

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