Last Updated on July 23, 2023 by BVN

Brandi T. Biggles, known as Chef Brandi to the Southern Californian culinary community, fell in love with cooking as a child by spending time in the kitchen beside her mother and grandmother. After unexpectedly losing her mother at a young age, Biggles found comfort and connection to her late mother through recipes.

Not only are recipes at the crux of Biggles’ upbringing and unique approach to running her business, but they’ve also been key to guiding her through hard times. Biggles chose to share her “un-gumbo” and rice recipe, a fruit and plant-based gumbo dish served over basmati rice, that brought her great comfort when she was unhoused. 

“Rice goes with everything and if you get rice right and it’s at the base of whatever you do, it just brings a vibrance to the dish,” Biggles said as she reflected on the grain’s importance in her cooking. “In my family rice is definitely a part. It’s not a side dish, it is a part of the dish all the time.”

Over the past two decades Biggles has made strides in expanding her business. She opened her first storefront bakery and helped develop a traveling farmers market with Black vendors and farmers. Biggles also launched her own culinary brand Chits and Biggles, directed a meal program and was the head chef at a transitional housing program. While she extended her expertise to the community, she developed her signature artisan woodfired vegan pizzas. 

Amongst triumphs, Biggles also faced many challenges including being unhoused for over six months. For periods of time, she left the culinary world all together; but she maintained that in addition to positivity, prayer and support from family and friends, food was also a means to help her reclaim daily peace, hope and comfort through hardship.

Biggles’ “un-gumbo” recipe was the first and foremost dish that helped her persist through the difficulties she faced while houseless.  

“I created it from wanting that comfort food space and warmth that was so familiar to me from my grandma and her household, always having stability and love and family,” she said. 

In her family, members each take to their own iteration of her grandmother’s gumbo recipe, but still consider rice a key component. Biggles’ version of the recipe centers on plant-based alternatives.  She developed this recipe in an effort to create  comfort food without animal protein, as she tries to keep her diet largely plant-based. The recipe begins with what Biggles calls “the holy trinity” — onions, carrots and celery. Then, she adds okra, mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, bok choy, more onion and kale. 
Black Voice News spent time with Biggles in her outdoor kitchen which she uses for large gatherings, catering preparation and storage. We documented the importance of rice in her “un-gumbo” dish, a recipe that she keeps close, like a memento from her childhood memories spent with her mother and grandmother. Check out the recipe and photos below.

The “un-gumbo recipe, handwritten by Biggles on a piece of paper, lists its various ingredients including yellow onions, sweet onions, black eyes peas, roma tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, red kale and bok choy. (Credit: Handwritten recipe by Brandi Biggles)
After she finishes chopping onions, Biggles gathers them to add to the pot on June 9, 2023, in one of the initial steps of her “un-gumbo” recipe which is served over basmati rice. Biggles said her family doesn’t see rice as a side dish, but as “a part” of them. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)
Various ingredients including mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, bok choy, onion and kale, lay on Biggles’ cutting board until they are ready to be placed in the pot in a specific order to ensure the correct flavoring for the “un-gumbo” recipe on June 9, 2023. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)
Biggles adds celery, one of the first ingredients used in her “un-gumbo,” to the pot on June 9, 2023. Celery is part of what she calls the “holy trinity,” — onions, bell peppers and celery. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)
A bowl of Biggles’ “un-gumbo,” plant and fruit-based gumbo, is poured over, a serving of rice and is ready to be eaten on June 9, 2023. Biggles prepares green onions to add to the bowl. Biggles leaned on the rice-based recipe when she was unhoused as a comfort food without animal protein. Biggles  tries to keep her diet majority plant-based. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)
Biggles chops mushrooms, an ingredient in her “un-gumbo” recipe, on June 9, 2023. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)
While Facetiming  her dad, Biggles tells him that she is making  “un-gumbo” in her outdoor kitchen on June 9, 2023. Biggles’ father and brother are part of her close support network and have witnessed her growth as a chef, business owner and multidisciplinary creative. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News / CatchLight Local)

Still I Rice! is part of the Black Voice News series, Centerpoint: The Healing Power of Cultural Connections, funded by Ethnic Media’s Stop the Hate campaign administered by the California State Library.

Black Voice News photojournalist Aryana Noroozi was born in San Diego, California and graduated with a master’s degree from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her love for visual storytelling led her to document immigrant and deportee communities and those struggling with addiction. She was a 2020 Pulitzer Center Crisis Reporting Fellow and a GroundTruth Project Migration Fellow. She is currently a CatchLight/Report for America corps member employed by Black Voice News. You can learn more about her at You can email her at