The Healthy-Cooking Secrets of Miami’s Premier Soul Food Chef
Troy Tingling of Soulfly Chicken schools us on cheese-free mac and cheese and chicken-free fried chicken
Soul food has long been known for its ability to make ingredients like pork intestines and turkey necks delicious (and in many cases, even more delicious than the luxury cuts white enslavers would have once kept for themselves). But at Miami’s Soulfly Chicken, the role of soul has moved well beyond its origins. With his food truck, chef Troy Tingling seeks to make soul food accessible and appealing to modern Miamians, no matter their dietary needs or restrictions.
According to Tingling, collard greens, mac and cheese, candied yams and “FRIED CHICKEN” (caps his) are all must-haves in any soul food spread, but these and other Southern staples could be tough sells in a “free-from” world. Luckily, Chef Tingling was more than up to the challenge. Today, his menu includes gluten-free, dairy-free and even vegan options. And thanks to his three years of experience working as a personal chef in Israel, the whole menu is kosher to boot.
“Thankfully we live in a world where there is a healthy alternative for almost everything,” he tells InsideHook. “As these alternate ingredients are becoming more and more readily accessible, using these new and healthier options in our everyday cooking should be something that we all do.”
It’s a more novel approach to soul that would be unfamiliar to some, but it’s one he’s proud of.
“Southern cuisine or soul food, whichever term you prefer, is very deep rooted,” he says. “As a chef, of course you want to make a dish your own, but personally I like to pay homage to those deep roots and those traditional flavors.”
With this in mind — and in eager anticipation of the food truck’s new brick-and-mortar location, coming to Wynwood later this summer — he’s sharing his philosophy on making soul food approachable and enjoyable for anyone at your table.
Pork-Free Dirty Rice
Pork is an omnipresent base ingredient in many soul food recipes, adding flavor and fat to anything from collard greens to cornbread. But Tingling has long eschewed pork for personal reasons, and his background cooking kosher in Israel cemented its absence from the menu at Soulfly.
“Part of our mission at Soulfly is to make our food accessible to as many people as possible,” he says. “We’re vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, so even if I did eat pork, I wouldn’t have put it on the menu anyway.” He relies, instead, on aromatics like onion, pepper and garlic to give “pop” to recipes like his dirty rice — the chef’s favorite dish on the Soulfly menu.
“Traditionally, dirty rice is made with chicken livers, ground beef and/or pork,” he says. “For the Soulfly Dirty Rice, we use traditional Cajun flavors, we only use ground chicken. Please believe me when I say our rice is packed with flavors.”
Chicken-Free Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is a staple of any soul food repertoire, but for Tingling, “comfort food doesn’t always have to make you feel guilty.”
“As a chef you have to be in tune to the trends and what is ‘in the now,’” he asserts. “What is ‘in the now’ currently is being more health conscious and paying more attention to what is being put into your body.”
The more health-conscious side of Soulfly’s mission means that the team has embraced technology that cuts frying time — and calories — in half. Meanwhile, relying on gluten-free rice flour means that anyone, even those who, Tingling asserts, “probably haven’t been able to enjoy fried chicken in a while,” can dig in.
The Soulfly menu even boasts a meat-free chicken option perfect for vegans and flexitarians. “Meat-free alternatives are a thing of the future, and I honestly don’t see them going away,” he says. “While I don’t have a favorite, I can tell you I’ve tried them all.”
In his personal life, however, the chef notes that he stays away from processed products as much as he can, leaning towards whole food alternatives instead.
“I’m a huge fan of mushrooms,” he says. “Oyster mushrooms to be exact.”
While he notes that volume at Soulfly made it untenable to source enough of the chewy, meaty mushrooms to cater to the demand, at home, a fried oyster mushroom sandwich could be the perfect tradeoff for more classic chicken. Above all, to perfect a dish like a healthier fried chicken, Tingling recommends one ingredient: patience.
“Have a lot of patience, and don’t be afraid to try new things,” he says. “There is a lot of science that went into creating the recipes at Soulfly, but it was definitely a labor of love. I wanted to make sure the crunch was right, the color was right and the texture was right. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Cheese-Free Mac and Cheese
Since the kosher diet precludes the mixing of meat and dairy, Tingling was led early on to develop a vegan version of this classic southern side, something he calls “one of the biggest challenges” of making soul food that’s open to all.
“Trying to make dairy-free mac and cheese as good as my regular mac and cheese was absolutely the most difficult part,” he says. “On an average day, I probably make the best non-vegan mac and cheese you’ve ever had.” For home cooks, he recommends seeking out the Treeline brand of dairy-free cheese, made with a creamy cashew base and natural cultures.
“I can’t share too many of my secrets, but I will share this one,” he says. “Put love into every dish that you make, and you will absolutely taste the difference.”
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