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TikTok’s singing vegan turns everyday cooking into a musical

Self-portraits of vegan recipe developer and content creator Gabrielle Reyes in her Miami kitchen. From left, Reyes’s most popular recipe, vegan baby back ribs; roasted cauliflower; and barbecue mac and cheese. (Photos by Gabrielle Reyes)

If you ever find yourself singing and dancing when you cook a great recipe, you and Gabrielle Reyes might just be on the same wavelength. Under the name One Great Vegan, Reyes is a joy to watch in the kitchen, where she pairs vibrant vegan meals with original music for her more than 220,000 fans on TikTok.

In this food creator’s Miami kitchen, there are no ingredient lists or silent preparations. Reyes, 30, opts for a more musical, hip-shaking routine that appeals to kids, teens and adults alike. So when the camera pans over a creamy vegan Alfredo, she’s right there in front of the camera, dancing and twirling her fork before widening her eyes for an exaggerated bite. Since she started posting in 2019, Reyes’s videos that transform cooking routines into whimsical food musicals have been viewed more than 11 million times.

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Though they may seem like second nature now, her vegan cooking serenades actually began as a joke. One Christmas, Reyes broke out into song while her husband, Ace Anderson, was cooking mac and cheese. “I literally was like, ‘I love mac and cheese.’ And we went on a whole song dancing around the kitchen,” she says. “I always sing about stuff. I can’t help it.”

Gabrielle Reyes celebrates vegetables through music with her catchy TikTok recipes. (Video: Jess Eng/The Washington Post)

Cheesy as it felt at the time, her tune sparked an idea between her and Anderson, who had just watched a documentary about musical.ly, a social media app that later became TikTok. Initially, they posted short, silly videos, but Anderson soon encouraged Reyes to share her joyous medleys with a larger audience. Now, One Great Vegan is a fully fledged collaboration with a producer that features Reyes singing and dancing on camera and Anderson beatboxing in the background.

Reyes’s knack for vegan recipes began at an early age. In her Haitian-Puerto Rican family, she was exposed to bold flavors and sauces cooked with vegetables, such as cauliflower with a Haitian epis seasoning and chickpea curry. When she was growing up in California and Texas, her family struggled financially and rarely purchased meat as a result. “The only meat we ate was hot dogs,” Reyes says. “My family couldn’t afford it, so it kind of made sense to create more vegetarian and vegan recipes when I was a kid.”

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After her father died when she was a teenager, Reyes struggled for years with an eating disorder. When she hit her early 20s, she became committed to changing her lifestyle, beginning with her diet. Recalling vegetarian recipes from her youth, and her rich family heritage, she decided to go vegan in 2011. Reyes says it has been the best decision for her body and mental health.

While her vegan cooking began to flourish at home, she was juggling an acting career. The two collided at a cast party in 2017, where Reyes rolled up with platters of country-fried jackfruit, sliders, and chicken and waffles. There was a catch: No one knew her banquet was vegan, and yet her fellow actors couldn’t stop eating her food. Seeing this as a sign, she launched a vegan catering business in 2018 and began hosting in-person cooking lessons where she’d try out her newest food tunes.

To date, Reyes is most widely known for her vegan baby back ribs recipe. In a TikTok video seen by more than 1 million users, she lyrically guides viewers through a serious barbecue project: She piles jackfruit, plant-based meat and dry seasonings into a bowl, mixes them and forms a lengthy “rack” of vegan meat. This from-scratch recipe carries extra meaning for Reyes, who created the recipe in honor of Juneteenth 2021, and to discuss the importance of barbecues in the Black community.

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Reyes was surprised when she received death threats in response to the video. “They think I’m doing something that goes so against what they believe to be true, which is eating meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she says. “Luckily, what I’m doing is joyous and positive and exudes high vibrancy.”

Reyes says she’s committed to championing flavorful vegan cooking and self-acceptance on camera and in life. So it’s only fitting that she doesn’t focus on changing people’s diets, and instead hopes to be a channel that anyone, vegan or not, can turn to.

“My whole belief isn’t that everyone should eat vegan,” Reyes says. “But I do think the world needs more vegetables. And I do think the world needs more kindness and compassion.”

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