CROWN HEIGHTS — Benoit Bofia's jerk recipe might not be chicken, but this tofu twist on the Caribbean classic is nothing if not finger-licking good.
"You name it, I can make it," Bofia, 37, said of the multi-ethnic vegan dishes that have made Crown Heights' Soul Kofa catering community a hit at hipster bodegas and high-end grocery stores around the city.
"I make a Crispy Soul Chicken, and whenever I make it, people go bananas."
The chef never imagined he'd be serving Brooklyn's best school lunch — not to mention some of the city's most coveted faux-chicken dishes — when he immigrated to the United States from Cameroon.
In fact, he never thought about going vegan until a friend suggested that changing his diet might help combat a series of chronic health problems.
That was 15 years ago.
"Now I barely get sick," Bofia said. "I haven't been to the doctor in years, except for a check-up. I have a lot of energy."
For more than a decade, Bofia has been delighting children at Kamit Preparatory Institute with his vegan mutton and Thai peanut tofu, along with scores of other meatless treats.
Still, it took some convincing to transform him from an inventive home cook to one of the most eclectic vegan chefs around.
"A friend of mine knows the lady that owns this kitchen," said the former Columbia Medical Center financial analyst. "She thought I was the best cook ever, but I was very reluctant."
"The thing I like the most is the vegan jerk chicken — it's my own twist on the original Caribbean style," Bofia said. "I like doing a lot of African dishes also."
This year, he expanded his catering business to include a line of carry out dishes popular at dozens of stores around the city, including Gourmet Garage.
"You can walk down the street and see great food," Bofia said. "I just get inspired being in the kitchen."