Beats to bowls: bringing vegan food to Leimert Park

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Before the pandemic, Hugh Augustine was ready to hit the road on a 20 city national tour to promote his new album. Unable to travel, Augustine tapped into his “secret talent” of cooking and improving vegan recipes he’d been making for the last three years. He describes the Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills communities, where he lives and was raised, as a food desert. He sees his cooking as a form of activism, bringing healthy and nutritious eating to the community. Every Friday he’s dishing out Hugh’s Hot Bowls in Leimert Park. 

Hugh Augustine tells KCRW: 

“I represent the Leimert Park community in Los Angeles. I'm a local artist, entrepreneur and vegan chef. Before COVD-19 pandemic, I was working diligently in the studio every day, making an album, and I was getting ready to hit the road on a 20 city national tour to promote that album. 

The day that I heard we were shutting down for COVID-19 and I was no longer going to be able to go on tour, I was pretty devastated. I didn't really know what I was going to be doing in my day to day. I knew that I was going to be home a lot. 

And I knew I was going to need to cook. I grew up with my mother running a catering business, so I always was cooking in the kitchen from a very young age. It's kind of been my secret talent since I can remember.

With all that extra free time during the pandemic, I figured, let's start cooking. Let's get better at these vegan recipes and start trying some new stuff as well. I figured that there were people in my community that were looking for some healthy, affordable options during the pandemic, and why not be the person to provide that to the community? 

I've been vegan now for almost three years. I became vegan as a way to be preventative about my health care. We have so many underlying health problems in the community, and a lot of them come from our lifestyle choices. So I just wanted to do something preventative about that. And I know the best way to do that is to start with the food. 

I come from the Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills community of Los Angeles. We're a predominantly African American community. The community is rich with culture. Our music, so much history of why people are drawn to Los Angeles, comes from my neighborhood. We've been the home to many African American singers, songwriters, movie stars, directors. It's a really special place with a lot of creative energy. 

I totally see what I'm doing with the cooking as a form of activism. Where I live, it's known as a food desert — a place that lacks healthy, nutritious food that is also affordable to the people in the community. Versus, when you think about Los Angeles and the different neighborhoods, a place like Brentwood, or Beverly Hills, where there's organic farmers’ markets. There are different chains that have a higher quality of organic selections and produce. There's a bigger focus on farm-to-table in those establishments. 

Where I live, even chains that are in my community that also exist in other communities in LA, we have a lower quality of food that's coming into our grocery stores with fewer options. It's ridiculous to me that we don't have these necessities, these basic needs. But I am grateful to be in a position to provide some type of help in that way.

My mom was really proud when she saw that I was written up in the LA Times. It was almost like a passing of the baton or carrying on the torch, in a way. My dad was in the music business, and so a lot of the time, growing up doing music, it was like I was taking after my dad. Now that I'm in the food industry, it's like I'm taking after my mom. She's very proud of the progress that I made and the mission that I'm on. 

Hugh’s Hot Bowls is available every Friday in Leimert Park in front of the Regency West, on 43rd Street between Degnan Blvd. and Creed Ave. Every week we have a rotating menu. Last week, I made our Soul Bowl, which we're pretty popular for. It’s red beans and rice, clean greens, mac and cheese, candied yams, and a vegan cornbread muffin. I really enjoy making that meal because it's the vegan version of something that we had in the house all the time for holidays, and something that really makes me feel connected to my family, to my grandmother and our history in coming to LA.”



Evan Kleiman