29 May 2024

Nneka Nurse, the Best Dressed Plate and Caribbean Tradishons

Read Time:10 Minute, 22 Second

As a fellow content curator with a focus on Caribbean brands, I was eager to connect with Nneka Nurse, the ingenious architect of Best Dressed Plate and Caribbean Tradishons. Her passion for Caribbean cuisine and her role as a culinary ambassador has positioned her as a luminary in the Caribbean gastronomic sphere. The inception of these brands has fostered platforms that pay homage to the rich Caribbean culinary heritage and spotlight emerging talents. Nneka’s devotion to Caribbean culture and her unwavering commitment to preserving its culinary traditions are palpable in every recipe, interview, and narrative she offers. I sat down with her recently to learn her story, who her favourite Caribbean Chef is and what’s next for her as a content curator.

Hi Nneka! Tell us about yourself, what you do and where you’re from (rep’ your island/s)

I’m Nneka Nurse, a blend of Caribbean heritage and American my dad hails from Trinidad, my mom’s Jamaican, and my family tree boasts branches in Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis. Born in the U.S. but raised in the culture of the Caribbean. Believe it or not, I started in construction as a project manager, but the stage always called to me. I started by hosting fashion shows, then handled operations for major concerts like “International Dancehall Queen” and Machel Montano’s shows at Jones Beach, Kings Theater and Resort World Casino. I even dabbled in media as a host on a Caribbean music and news program called Muzik Media. While construction built my professional foundation, entertainment has always been my true calling. Now, I’ve combined blueprints for stories, launching Best Dressed Plate and Caribbean Tradishons. These platforms serve as my love letters to Caribbean cuisine, celebrating its diverse heritage and amplifying the voices of culinary heroes. So, yes, I am a construction manager slash culinary connector, fueled by a love for Caribbean culture and a dash of showbiz!

What inspired you to create Best Dressed Plate, and how did it evolve into a celebration of Caribbean cuisine? 

The inspiration behind Best Dressed Plate stems from my belief in the universal language of food. Sharing a meal can bridge cultures and build communities. As a first-generation Caribbean roots American, my childhood, split between Trinidad and the U.S., along with visits to family in Jamaica and Barbados, instilled in me a strong connection to my Caribbean identity, especially with the food.

Best Dressed Plate initially began as an Instagram page, where I shared the dishes of our islands. It was a way to engage in conversations about our shared culinary traditions and the techniques we take to get there. I wanted to celebrate the fact that despite our differences, we share a common love for food. However, the true turning point came when I hosted my first event at the United Nations during the holiday season. Witnessing the guests excited with the food and culture solidified my mission. That’s how “Caribbean Tradishon,” a dinner series that showcase chefs of Caribbean descent creating a themed menu using traditional dishes modernized came to be.

Tell us about the concept behind Caribbean Tradishons. How do you blend tradition and innovation in your supper club events?

The concept of Caribbean Tradishon came from 2 things. The United Nations events I held and the conversations on the IG platform surrounding the food. There are so many stories about food that I felt needed to be shared to lay the foundation surrounding Caribbean Cuisine. As time goes on if we don’t preserve and celebrate these stories it will get lost. We have classically trained chefs who were inspired by their family members parents and grandparents to become a chef. So no matter how you look at it these traditional handed-down recipes have stories connected to them and this is the reason we have these amazing chefs, cooks, and content creators putting the cuisine at the forefront. Caribbean Tradishon is a dinner where tradition meets innovation on the plate. Chefs are invited to create menus that tell a story with each dish based on the theme. This allows us to celebrate the authenticity of Caribbean cuisine practices while also embracing the creativity and evolution that comes from our chefs’ interpretations and techniques. Through Caribbean Tradishons, we aim to create a dining experience that honours our past, showcases the present, and inspires the future of Caribbean cuisine.

The blending of tradition and innovation is at the heart of what we do. By narrating the stories behind each dish, we not only pay homage to the generations that paved the way but also spotlight the creativity of today’s Caribbean chefs 

What role does storytelling play in your culinary experiences? How do you infuse cultural narratives into your dishes?

Storytelling is the heart of Caribbean Tradishon. Our cuisine reflects its complex history, with influences from Africa, India, and the Caribbean’s indigenous people. Every dish carries a narrative, passed down through generations. Sharing these stories connects guests to the heritage and cultural significance of their meal. Chef research plays a crucial role. They delve into the history and stories behind each dish, infusing them with modern creativity while retaining their essence. This deep dive is how we infuse these cultural narratives in the dishes by ensuring each dish is seasoned not only with flavour, but with understanding and appreciation. In essence, storytelling is a learning tool, guides us to appreciate and honor our culinary heritage.

Like a true Caribbean person, you are a callaloo of cultures with roots in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Saint Kitts and Nevis. How has your diverse upbringing influenced your culinary journey? 

My diverse upbringing is the caveat of how I was able to create that experience of One Caribbean. My upbringing wasn’t confined to one island so I did not have a dedicated allegiance to one, it was a callaloo of cultures from Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, and Jamaica. So, the love is equally shared. Initially, people found my background confusing because I knew stories and dishes from everywhere. But that diverse exposure became my strength. Especially when it came to stories about food. Growing up my mom worked in the healthcare sector and her job was filled with different cultures from the Caribbean. While at work they allied with each other because they had shared values. Because of this bond invitations to christenings, weddings, baby showers, you name it came pouring in and food was the special guest. This was my first introduction to other island foods. I was enjoying every bit of it. From a young age, I kept those memories in my register I have since been sharing out the culinary cash with anyone who wants to experience One Caribbean.

Could you share a memorable moment from one of your Caribbean Tradishons events?

One standout memory from Caribbean Tradishon was our inaugural event at The James Beard House, where guests unexpectedly broke out into a song and dance of Bacchanal, singing “Savannah Grass” in unison. The sight of diners, typically reserved at this esteemed venue, waving their napkins in the air shows the power of the food and atmosphere we created. Another unforgettable moment occurred during the dinner in Barbados with Chef Alain Lemaire. Introducing guests to authentic Haitian cuisine for the first time, their excitement and appreciation for the experience was deeply rewarding. These instances affirmed the escapade our culinary events offer, leaving lasting impressions on all who attend. 

Do you have a favourite Caribbean food/dish?

I am afraid to say it. Have you seen what happened with oxtail?! Anything with Breadfruit I love it to the core. After that would be Pelau which was the only dish my dad ever made in the house. I’m a daddy’s girl by heart so of course I would choose what he made best! 

This would probably be a difficult question to answer- but if you had to choose a personal Chef from the Caribbean- who would it be? 

Ha I plead the FIFTH! I love them ALL!

As a Branding and Marketing Media Maven, how do you promote Caribbean cuisine and culture through your platforms?

I leverage nostalgia and the current craving for cultural connection to promote Caribbean cuisine and culture. Recognizing a thirst for authenticity in an era of diluted originality, I engage audiences by tapping into their curiosity about their roots. Beyond traditional approaches, I have revitalized our website, transforming it into a comprehensive hub for Caribbean culinary culture. It will be a resource featuring destination guides, spotlight profiles on innovative food industry players, and articles addressing topics vital to the diaspora. We utilize various platforms, including social media, events, and collaborations, to reach a wider audience and amplify diverse voices within the Caribbean food scene. This approach fosters engagement, education, and appreciation for Caribbean culture.

What challenges have you faced in preserving and elevating traditional Caribbean recipes?

One significant challenge in preserving and elevating traditional Caribbean recipes is their often unwritten nature. Many recipes are passed down through instinct and oral tradition rather than precise measurements, causing difficulties in an era where modern society demands documentation, making these undocumented recipes seem less credible. The Caribbean’s diverse language, with French Creole, Dutch and various dialects, creates translation obstacles. Ingredients described in unfamiliar terms can be lost in translation, compromising the recipe’s integrity.  However, embracing these challenges is key. By seeking out elders and dialect speakers, we can decipher the recipes’ true essence. Traditional foundations can be reimaged with contemporary techniques through these efforts and other initiatives while maintaining their authenticity.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs and event planners who want to celebrate their cultural heritage through food?

My advice to aspiring chefs and event planners on celebrating their cultural heritage through food is simple, Stay authentic to yourself and your roots. Authenticity ensures your efforts are received genuinely, allowing you to succeed. Additionally, embrace collaboration. Align with individuals who share your aspirations and values. Working together amplifies your impact, enabling you to achieve goals more effectively and meaningfully.

Beyond food, how do you incorporate other elements of Caribbean culture—such as music, art, and dance—into your events?

How I incorporate elements of the Caribbean is through bringing in traditional cultural music art and dance to the audience. These elements act as supporting pillars, enhancing the storytelling of our cuisine at Caribbean Tradishon dinners. Providing a space of culture celebrated through food, music, art and dance as being the supporting factor in telling that story. At the Caribbean Tradishon dinner, I create the experience through music and performance even the visuals, from table settings to decor, pay homage to Caribbean culture in minimal ways.  I enjoy sharing those things I grew up experiencing because it is a sense of pride knowing the origins of music food and art which I plan on exploring more in future dinners. It is a way to connect with our roots and share the joy of our heritage through all its forms.

What is next for Best Dressed Plate and Caribbean Tradishons? Are any exciting projects or collaborations on the horizon?

For Best Dressed Plate and Caribbean Tradishon, the path ahead is clear, we aim to keep celebrating and sharing the essence of Caribbean cuisine while spotlighting those who innovate and shape its future. Highlights include the launch of The Culinary Impact Awards, recognizing individuals who significantly influence and elevate Caribbean culinary arts. We’re also building partnerships and collaborating with brands and community leaders to enhance the cuisine’s visibility and appreciation. Our event lineup is hot and I don’t mean to brag either! We recently launched our Sliced to Savor cooking class with Prince Abou Butcher, Chef Holly Cole and other noted chefs. This class is all about the foundation of cooking starting from how to cut, clean and season meat and ending with a chef-prepared family-style meal. Additionally, we are planning more Caribbean Tradishon dinners, a return to Barbados for Food & Rum, and an array of programming in the form of video content, articles, and activities for Caribbean Heritage Month, along with surprises for Thanksgiving and Christmas! As we mark our 10th anniversary, Best Dressed Plate is more dedicated than ever to showcasing the richness of Caribbean cuisine globally.

You can get in touch with Nneka at Best Dressed Plate and Caribbean Tradishon.

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