Chef Nicola Blaque is a connoisseur of cuisine from around the world.
Her introduction to the world of herbs and spices came at a young age, watching her mother prepare dishes that had diners clamoring for more. Her interest increased as her family traveled around the world during her stepfather’s Air Force career, picking up exotic flavors that she added to her growing cook book.
In 2003 she enlisted in the Army as a logistics specialist, taking her love of culinary arts with her. She sought out tips abroad from skilled cooks during three tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. Now living in San Antonio, she’s on a mission to offer delectable, healthy fare to local residents.
“I walk through about four different grocery stores and I get inspiration, just knowing what is in season and thinking of ways to make it new” Blaque, 32, said, at the office of San Antonio for Growth on the East Side, near downtown’s St. Paul Square. “Just knowing what is in season and thinking of ways to make it new.”
Blaque’s global cuisine is one of seven that will be featured at SAGE’s Taste the Dream Gala, 6 p.m. Saturday at the Witte Museum, 3801 Broadway. Diners will also have a chance to stop at other food stations to sample food from Africa, Asia, Cuba, Europe and Latin America in addition to barbecue, Cajun /creole, comfort food and vegetarian dishes.
The chef’s last duty station was in Hawaii, where she learned to cook Polynesian and Asian food. That stop no doubt influenced her offering at the Taste the Dream Gala: pineapple waffles, topped with jerk chicken and charred pineapple relish.
In 2013, Blaque separated from the Army as a staff sergeant and chose San Antonio to start her career as a chef. She graduated in fall 2016 from Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio, located at the Pearl Brewery.
Monday, with her fiancee, Cornelius Massey, a personal trainer, she arrived at the SAGE office to share samples of her cooking with the staff. Wearing a chef’s tunic bearing her name in bold letters, Blaque set a long conference table with her dishes.
Blackened salmon with cranberry rice. Grilled steak with kale and purple sweet potatoes. Spinach, kale, broccoli and zucchini pureed pasta with Carbonara sauce smothered over grilled chicken.
A private chef, Blaque prepares healthy food out of her home or at clients’ homes. She and Massey are in their third year serving clients.
“What I wanted to do is take dishes that you’d find at any restaurant and transform them to under 500 calories,” she said, “with a healthy flavor for them to enjoy and still lose weight or build muscle.”
Recently, they met Akeem Brown, director of operations at SAGE, who has talked to Blaque about her goal of opening a farm to table restaurant on the East Side. Brown said the chef’s dishes are examples of a long tradition of healthy food prepared in African American neighborhoods.
“Chef Nicole is an inspiration to bring us back to that point,” Brown said. “It is vitally important, finding ways to tap into what we’re eating on a daily basis and making it healthy. That’s an inspiration not only for her, but the community.”
General admission to the event is $100 with proceeds going to support SAGE’s development projects on the East Side. The gala, sponsored by the University Health System, is one of 150 DreamWeek public events that include concerts, debates, film screenings, panel discussions and symposiums through Jan. 21.
Vincent T. Davis, Staff Writer