Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora
As a caterer, I never set out to be known, defined, or limited as a female black owned business. The other day the wife of a European dignitary who hired me for a sit down dinner party, explained that was part of the appeal in hiring me, besides my food. She liked what she saw, a minority female entrepreneur, pulling together her friends, family and resources to carve out a business as we worked as a team. She said at this juncture, ”I was on the cliff and I needed to take the plunge” in regards to this fledgling business of mine, that I juggle with a day job. She and others believed in my talent. At that moment, the way I was perceived by others was as if a light bulb went off for me. It takes an unbiased outsider sometimes to show you what’s obvious. She validated my talent, and showed what I was struggling and piecing together for years , was not in vain. After working corporately for over a decade in an all black company, with many limitations and obstacles as well as successes, I went out of my way not to be pigeon holed or defined by my race. It’s hard enough being a woman in the professional kitchen, but a black woman, even more so. As I caterer, I start to see cultural differences and expectations amongst my inquiries and clients. I love being given the green light to fly away with my creativity and help my clients create memorable events. I still try to reconcile that people are actually seeking me out and paying me for doing something that comes so naturally and easy to me, albeit being very physically demanding hard work. I admit I get uninterested if a less opened minded client to-be tries to box me in with a dull uninspired stereotypical menu. It’s the equivalent of sitting in a cubicle to me. Money as a motivator is important. But equally important is being able to cook gorgeous internationally inspired food for a open mined receptive audience. When one hires me they hire me not only for my hard work ethic, but because I dare to think out the box many in society try to put and keep me in.
So reflecting on the principle of Kujichagulia (Self determination)…
I am Courtney of Coco Cooks, an African American female chef cooking food that makes people happy. I dropped my bucket where I was and didn’t let my detractors sideline me or their negativity settle in my thoughts or define me. I stuck my nose to the grindstone, rolled up my sleeves, and honed my knives. I called on the help of friends and family, and finally found and accepted my calling and purpose.
Courtney Nzeribe, created Coco Cooks from a genuine passion in cooking and nurturing others. In 2007 Courtney decided to start a cooking blog as way to advance her passions and craft. Coco Cooks chronicles her baking, cooking, extensive travels, and life in Chicago. Starting with a food blog created over five years ago, Courtney found herself getting many requests to create meals, events, and demos for others. Courtney, always having had a hand in the catering industry, learning from some of Chicago’s best, turned her avocation into a vocation. After being laid off working for a locally based national cosmetics company for over twelve years, Courtney “dropped her bucket” where she was and ventured out on her own, creating Coco Cooks Catering. One constant remark Courtney always hears is that her “food makes people happy.” She lives in Lincoln Park, Chicago with her boyfriend.