Long Island chef Troy Levy spreads the vegan food movement through healthy Jamaican Ital cuisine

An Ital diet is even more vegan than vegan.

Italian cooking means no salt and no chemically modified additives. Plant-based innovations such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, and Silk Almond Milk have no place in an Italian cuisine that is all about serving natural, pure, and clean foods.

Developed by Rastafarians in the 1940s to eliminate processed foods and enhance a healthier lifestyle, the Ital diet is beginning to take hold as the vegan cousin of Jamaican cuisine. And here on Long Island, Hempstead-based chef Troy Levy is leading the charge through his private chef and restaurant business, Chef Troy’s Table.

“In the 1970s in Jamaica, the Rastas were outcasts, so they had to go back to the hills,” said Levy, 40, who grew up in Jamaica and was introduced to Italian cuisine by his Rastafarian uncles. “They started cooking everything natural and they had to find different ways to prepare meals. They had to do everything from scratch.

Rastafarians place great importance on “oneness” and spiritual connection with the Earth. With that comes maintaining an all-natural diet.

Levy said Ital goes beyond cooking — it’s a whole way of life that emphasizes food as medicine.

Chef Troy’s Italian table is a private restoration company that empowers others to experience and pursue a sustainable lifestyle.

Armed with his vast knowledge of flavors and tastes, Chef Troy fuses French, Japanese and Mexican influences to cultivate nutritious, all-plant-based meals for everyday diners or for any special occasion, from small celebrations to large events that may accommodate up to 800 guests or more. .

He also offers cooking classes for adults and children, live cooking demonstrations, restaurant consultations and menu development assistance.

Levy, who said he’s been looking for a physical storefront on Long Island, even offers an option for those not quite ready to try strict Italian cuisine: a menu that uses organic produce in emphasizing free-range and grass-fed products. Meat.

The chef published a blank recipe book, “My italian/vegan recipe bookwhich encourages people to archive their own Italian recipes on the blank pages of the book. Her first Ital cookbook is set to be published this summer, Levy said.

Levy said her overall mission in life these days is to create a movement that promotes healing through food.

“I want to make sure people are aware that our food should be our medicine, and our medicine should be our food,” Levy said. “What we put into our bodies is of great importance to how our bodies function – if I could leave anything on this Earth, it would be for people to understand.”

A passion for cooking that began at the age of 8

Chef Troy Levy’s passion for cooking began at the age of 8 and learned about the vitality of food from his mother in their kitchen in Jamaica. He said the flu was spreading in the local community at the time and when his mother fell ill she entrusted him with preparing the family’s traditional Sunday dinner.

“She walked me through it, I would bring the spoon to her and ask her ‘Is that enough seasoning? and put it in the pot,” he recalls.

Levy finished cooking the meal and when her neighbor Julia came to try it, she was completely in disbelief that he had.

“It felt so good,” Levy said.

This fueled his confidence and soon enough he was put in charge of temporarily running his stepfather’s cooking workshop when he caught the flu.

“It was a huge task for me,” Levy said. “Going to season the meat, do the oxtail, the rice, the peas and all that was madness. But I did, and a lot of people still didn’t believe I cooked it.

Some of his friends considered cooking a “lady thing” at the time, Levy recalls, while others appointed him as the leader of their group, and he proudly held the title.

One particular cooking method that Levy was interested in was steaming fish, which he says is prepared differently in each of Jamaica’s 14 “parishes” – or counties.

At 18, Levy had the opportunity to come to the United States. He first met his father and learned that he owned a bar and salon in Queens.

“I said I had to find something I could do that I was passionate about,” Levy said. “I realized my dad was a really good cook, so I started steaming and selling fish, and I started making a lot of money. People were coming from Connecticut, Poughkeepsie , from Albany, from Long Island, everywhere, just to get my steamed fish.

This was just the start of her long culinary career.

Learning the trade in the USA

When Levy first ventured into the working world, he said he really couldn’t figure out exactly what he wanted to do with his career.

He lived briefly in Florida, working in a small “hole-in-the-wall” Jamaican restaurant. Then, after returning to New York four years later, he decided it was time to post his resume.

Soon his phone started to explode, he said.

Once his applications were accepted, he said he had to go through a series of trials and test his skills in restaurants before being hired.

For Levy, it didn’t go as he hoped.

“I tried every restaurant and failed miserably,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about gastronomy, I know how to cook, I know flavors, but I didn’t go to cooking school or anything.”

One of the essays involved a Spanish tapas restaurant called Casa Pomona in New York, where he met Filipino chef Don Flores, who said that although Levy struggled, he immediately saw that spark in him.

“He asked a lot of questions, he was very curious about a lot of things,” Flores said of Levy’s time in her kitchen. “I feel the passion, I feel everything he wants to achieve in life, and that, to me, is what makes for a good mentorship.”

Considering Levy “the Jamaican brother he never had”, Flores promised that if Levy was willing to learn, he would take him under his wing and teach him the ropes.

Levy said he learned everything from Flores, including slicing techniques, Spanish cooking methods and the use of certain kitchen equipment.

Flores expressed how fun it was teaching Levy during his time at Casa Pomona and explained that they still stay in touch to this day.

“I told him you’ll go far, all you have to do is focus on what you want to do in life, what you love, and you’ll be awesome. And that’s what he has. fact,” Flores said. “He’s a very talented guy… I’m proud of him for really going to his roots.

Levy continued to work and gain knowledge from other notable New York establishments along the way, such as Jamaican fine dining restaurants Milk River and suede restaurantBB King’s in Times Square and Highline Ballroom in Chelsea.

In addition, he has appeared on Food Network’s hit show “Cooks vs. Cons” (Season 4), Fox 5’s “Good Day New York” and Foodie Down Bronx TV. He has been guest demo leader at the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival in New York and Florida for the past four years.

“I consider myself really blessed because to get all this knowledge and information, I worked in a restaurant where people graduated from culinary schools, and I teach them something that they didn’t even know,” said Levy.

Now that he’s fully embraced Italian cuisine, Levy said he strives to present the cuisine in the most authentic and organic way possible and to honor the Rastafarians he recognizes as the “pioneers” of Ital.

“When I stopped cooking meat, my chef friends told me ‘you’re going to be broke,'” he said. “I’m not doing this for the money, I really want people to understand my culture, from my point of view.”

Top: Chef Troy Levy. (All photos courtesy of Troy Levy.)

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Tanya S. Norvell