Southern fried lasagna is on the menu at Chef Shenarri Freeman's Cadence.

By Stacey Leasca
May 19, 2021
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Cadence restaurant, Chef Shenarri in Harlem
Credit: Eric Medsker

Chef Shenarri Freeman, otherwise known as "Shenarri Greens," is serving up a food revolution.

As the executive chef of Cadence, a new plant-based restaurant with Southern soul in New York's East Village, Freeman is cooking dishes built around her Virginia upbringing. However, this isn't your average Southern food. This is Southern food with a vegan twist.

"Outside of the luxurious decor and intimate setting, we don't compromise on flavor and texture for health," Freeman shared with Travel + Leisure on what makes her restaurant so unique. "Instead, we are bridging the gap between the two and showing our patrons that it's possible to have delicious and exciting plant-based meals that aren't bland."

Freeman herself fully embraced veganism in 2017 to put her health first, it just so happens we, the tasty diners of the world, get to reap the rewards of her dedication. Even years later, Freeman continues to create and experiment with plant-based dishes that are indulgent and approachable. Signature dishes at Cadence include Freeman's southern fried lasagna, palm cakes, and smoked grits — all takes on dishes she grew up eating.

"A few of these recipes were actually passed down to me from my mother and grandmother. Others were influenced by foods that I grew up eating with my family," she said. "We're not short of great cooks in my family. My mother is the youngest of nine and everyone throws down in the kitchen. I'm able to keep tradition and create new ones by applying my culinary background to these dishes."

Cadence restaurant, Chef Shenarri in Harlem
Credit: Eric Medsker

For Shenarri, it's not just about the food itself, but also about elevating the dining experience in general, which she accomplishes through sophisticated platings and cooking in an open kitchen so she can interact directly with guests to share more about why she cooks the food she does.

Cadence restaurant, Chef Shenarri in Harlem
Credit: Eric Medsker

"I'm interested in showing people a different side of the cuisine that is often overlooked," Freeman said. "Historically, African Americans and Black people from the south traditionally centered their meals around plant-based foods, mostly composed of vegetables. Meat used to be something that was a privilege, once-twice a week, depending on your job. This drastically changed in the '60s with the rise of fast-food chain restaurants and a shift in the job market. Plant-based meals aren't anything new to us."

Cadence restaurant, Chef Shenarri in Harlem
Credit: Eric Medsker

Freeman knows she's got something special going on, and wants to use her spot as a place to continuously honor Black female chefs like her.

"With this role, I plan on doing just that: celebrating and highlighting other Black female chefs. I am only here because of all of the amazing Black women in this industry that came before me," she said. "It's my duty to give back and prepare this industry for the next generation of Black women that will come after me."

One particular way she's accomplishing this is with Drew Brady, the restaurant's wine director, who curated a wine list highlighting Black female vintners "This is something that I take pride in and I'm thrilled that we were able to make this happen," Freeman said.

As for how you can incorporate some of her food ideals into your own life, whether you're in New York City to dine at Cadence or not, Freeman has one simple tip: "Please read food labels. Question everything and Google all of those words you're unfamiliar with on a label. I think you'll be surprised what people sneak into our food. Eat from the Earth and be kind to others."