Breaking Down Baja: Where To Eat, Stay and Play South of the Border

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Jan 2021.

Baja California is a state in Mexico located south of the California border. With the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico on either side, Baja has dramatic landscapes that span across mountains, sandy beaches, deserts and valleys. The Baja peninsula is one of the longest in the world, stretching over 700 miles from north to south.

While the peninsula has much to discover, the two main regions worth traveling to are Baja California (north Baja) and Baja California Sur (south Baja).

Road Trip Through North Baja 

The best way to start your exploration of north Baja is by flying into San Diego International airport. From here, you can either rent a car (less than a 30-minute drive), or take a taxi to San Ysidro to cross the pedestrian bridge. Alternately, you can fly into the large city of Tijuana and start your road trip here. Make sure to check your car rental insurance policy as some companies do not provide coverage in Mexico.

Continue your drive along the Pacific Coast on Highway 1, stopping at the towns of Rosarito Beach and Puerto Nuevo for fresh lobsters, margaritas and tamarind candies.

Beach in Ensenada
Pictured: Beach in Ensenada | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Make your way to Ensenada, a charming port town with expansive beaches, surfing spots, boutique restaurants and shopping.

If you have a car, you can drive further south to see rocky cliffs and one of the world’s largest blowholes, La Bufadora.

Ensenada is also known as the gateway to Mexico’s wine country and hosts a series of concerts, tastings and events during Fiestas de la Vendimia(Wine Harvest Festival).

Mexico’s Wine Valley 

Valle de Guadalupe is often compared to California’s Napa Valley. Here you can find over 120 wineries, trendy Baja Med cuisine, and an assortment of eco-friendly hotels located along Ruta del Vino (wine route). The community was first founded by Dominican missions in 1834, and now over 80% of Mexico’s wine is produced in the valley.

Valle de Guadalupe
Pictured: Valle de Guadalupe | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

The region’s Mediterranean-like climate is ideal for growing red grape varieties such as nebbiolo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and syrah. Since the winemakers are not regulated, they have room to innovate and create new blends using the season’s fresh harvest, rather than importing grapes.

While most of the vineyards and wine producers in the valley are boutique, there are also a few large commercial brands. Unique designs, open-air tasting rooms and local art displays make a few wineries worth the visit. Check out Vena Cava’s nautical themed wine bar and food truck, olive and lemon groves at Casa Magoni, a cool cave cellar at Encuentro, and nature-themed art installations at Bruma. Wine tasting rooms tend to get crowded on the weekends as visitors from the U.S. and Mexico get away for the weekend.

Encuentro Guadalupe winery
Pictured: Encuentro Guadalupe winery | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

In the valley, stay at Encuentro Guadalupe, a 24-room boutique hotel and winery with individual cabins on a wildlife reserve that appear to blend into the vast dry mountainous landscape. Each of the eco lofts has large windows and private terraces, so you can privately enjoy a sea breeze over neighboring vineyards, scenic sunset and star-studded night skies. Though the food and wine at Encuentro are notable, some of the best restaurants and wineries are located only minutes away.

Wellness in Tecate

On the border of San Diego and Tecate lies Rancho La Puerta, a destination spa resort that has been inspiring wellness for 80 years. Here you can stay in a Spanish-style casita surrounded by 4,000 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and the sacred Kuuchamaa Mountain.

Rancho La Puerta
Pictured: Rancho La Puerta | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

All-inclusive rates give you access to over 50 fitness classes each day, healthy and delicious farm-to-table meals, as well as presentations by wellness coaches. You can also experience some natural spa treatments and holistic therapies unique to The Rancho La Puerta. Plan to stay for at least a week if you want to avail the full experience.

Sun and Beach in South Baja 

Southern Baja is a popular destination known for its year-round warm weather warm, turquoise blue waters and white sand beaches. Los Cabos International Airport is well connected to cities across the U.S. Once you arrive, you can head to either of the two main cities located only a few minutes away—Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas is a haven for those who like to swim, kayak, fish, snorkel, sail or just relax at the beach. Most resorts and timeshares are located in the southern tip of Baja California Sur near Cabo San Lucas.

The Thompson Hotel in Cabo San Lucas
Pictured: The Thompson Hotel in Cabo San Lucas | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

The luxurious The Cape – A Thompson Hotel overlooks the Sea of Cortez and granite formations called El Arco. Local architects and artists partnered to design the hotel that blends in with the surroundings and maintains a vibrant 1960s Baja-meets-Southern California vibe. Start your day with a swim in the infinity pool, walk along the secluded beach and dine at Manta, an Asian-Peruvian-Mexican fusion restaurant.

The marina at Cabo San Lucas is dotted with bars, restaurants and shopping. This is also a meeting point for most tours, including snorkel and sightseeing sails. A must is to cruise along Land’s End with a local operator, Pez Gato. They offer smaller group excursions so you can have a safe and leisure experience watching the colorful marine life in the shallow waters at Santa Maria Bay.

San Jose del Cabo

The neighboring city of San Jose del Cabo is more historic. Colorful buildings located along cobblestone streets offer the authenticity of an old Spanish town. Here you are less likely to be bothered by peddlers as local families stroll through the main square across the Parroquia San José (a mission church).

Main square at San Jose Del Cabo
Pictured: Main square at San Jose Del Cabo at night | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

There are lots of art galleries, boutique shops, bars and cafés within walking distance. But the main reason to come to San Jose del Cabo is for the food. Unlike San Lucas, there are more Mexican mom and pop restaurants here specializing in tacos, seafood, margaritas and churros.

To discover some of the best architectural and culinary secrets of the area, take a guided walking food tour with Juan More Taco, a locally-owned and operated tour company.

Baja California is one of the safest places in Mexico. No matter which part you choose to explore first, you will find that the people are friendly and welcoming, taking pride in their land and culture.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Tips on Glamping Around The National Parks in Wyoming

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Dec 2020.

Being in nature can be healing to the mind, body and soul. Whether you need a change of scenery, to disconnect from your laptop, or a little more movement, Wyoming offers expansive landscapes, scenic roads and fresh air.

Surrounded by mountains and parks, there are endless possibilities for outdoor recreation around the state. But these times call for planning ahead and taking caution while traveling. Before you head out, make sure to read these tips for traveling safely to some of the most beautiful national parks in Wyoming.

Base in Jackson Hole 

Fly or drive to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The picturesque small town has the charm of a mountain village while offering a boutique beer and food scene. There are 2500 acres of skiing and snowboarding at the Jackson Hole Mountain, Snow King Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee Resort in the winter. The National Elk Refuge and The National Museum of Wildlife Art are open year-round.

During spring and summer, there’s hiking, biking, horseback riding and whitewater rafting. Two of the most iconic national parks, Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, are just north of Jackson Hole.

Fireside Resort
Pictured: Fireside Resort cabins | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

If you are looking for a close to home getaway in the great outdoors, you may be thinking of camping, renting an RV, or staying at a cabin. Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole offers a glamping experience with all the modern-day convenience of a boutique hotel. There are 25 LEED-certified sustainable cabins and an RV campground spaced out along a row of trees.

The outside of the individual cabins looks rustic, but they are artistic and functional on the inside. Hardwood floors, oversized fireplace, craftsman style door knobs, local art and Native American rugs make this simple space cozy and welcoming.

After a long day of hiking and biking, a king-size Tempur-Pedic bed, walk-in rain shower, and a modern kitchenette is a nice treat to look forward to.

Get The U.S. Park Pass

If you plan to spend more than three days at any national park in the country, it is worth investing in the America The Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. For $80, you can enter any of the 2,000 federal recreation sites for up to a year (instead of paying $30 each time). By simply displaying the pass, you can also enjoy a touchless entrance.   

Jenny Lake hiking trail at Grand Tetons
Pictured: Jenny Lake hiking trail at Grand Tetons | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Download The App

Driving through parks allows you to explore at your own pace, stopping to view wildlife and finding secluded picnic spots. Plan your stops at iconic scenic viewpoints, trailheads and restroom breaks by downloading the free National Park Trail Guide app from Adventure Projects Inc. Here you search for hikes by difficultly, distance, ratings, and even see pictures of the landscapes before you get there.

Remember that your phone may have limited or no connectivity inside the parks, so map your route ahead of time.  Also, make sure to carry a physical map as it will have the most up to date information about road and facility closures. Be sure to also pack a charger for your phone.

Make it To Go

Most parks have limited food offerings and usually serve expensive fast food. You may be able to find an occasional general store or café, but it’s best to carry everything you will need to eat or drink throughout the day. This will save time and money and help avoid standing in long lines.

Bison in Grand Tetons
Pictured: Bison in Grand Tetons | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Visit a grocery store the night before and purchase enough bottled water, soft drinks, fruits, pre-packed snacks and PPP items (sanitizer, wipes, masks). It is worth investing in a foldable cooler with ice packs and a picnic blanket so you can enjoy your meal anywhere.

Before heading out to the park, order your breakfast and lunch online to take with you. There are many great coffee shops, bakeries and delis in Jackson Hole town square to choose from. Nora’s Fish Creek Inn was nominated by James Beard as one of five “ America’s Classics” restaurants in 2012. The French bakery —Persephone — has some of the best pastries and coffee in town, while its sister restaurant, Picnic, offers globally-inspired gourmet sandwiches.

Grand Tetons National Park

The Teton Range is a 40-mile mountain range towering over Jackson Hole. There are several flat biking and hiking trails, taking you through valleys, along rivers and to historic sites of Grand Tetons.

Drive through the scenic Moose-Wilson road, making frequent stops to see snow-covered glaciers, deep blue lakes, green grasslands filled with wildflowers, and a few hundred bison. While there is plenty of space to spread out in the Grand Tetons, some more popular trails could get crowded.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the U.S., located only ten miles north of Grand Teton. The 3500-square-mile wilderness area spreads across the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone
Pictured: Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

There are many interesting geysers, canyons, and hot springs in Yellowstone’s volcanic region that draw visitors worldwide. To skip the crowds, visit places like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, and Mammoth Hot Spring either early in the morning or later in the day. Because the park is so vast and there are lots of things to do, spread your visit across a few days, focusing on different park regions.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Retired Marine Achilles Murray is Sergeant of Gourmet Sauces

Cuisine Noir. November 2020

For retired marine Achilles Murray, the recent lockdown has been a blessing. “People are cooking more at home. They are tired of ordering takeout. That’s where my reputable and delicious barbecue sauces come handy,” says Murray.

Murray and his wife started J&T’s Gourmet Sauces from their home kitchen while stationed in Japan. Murray, a native of Pasadena, California, joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of 22 and was deployed for about 13 years of his career. His family lived in Japan, Hawaii, South Carolina and California, and traveled all over the world. “We got to see a lot of places, including Hong Kong, Australia and Dubai. My favorite time was when I was stationed in Jordan for eight months. We had a mission there, and we did a good job at it,” Murray recalls.

Missing a Taste of Home

During his six-year-long tenure in Okinawa, Japan, Murray was inspired to make his barbecue sauce. Murray loved Japanese food and culture, but he was homesick for authentic and flavorful barbecue that he grew up with. He was always barbecuing with his fellow Marines and other service members but felt that something was missing. “It was a very beautiful island, and we could find all kinds of cuisines, but no respectful barbecue sauces,” Murray says.  The only sauces he was able to get at the commissaries were very basic. He started experimenting in his home kitchen with no prior professional cooking experience and came up with something more palatable. “When our friends tried it, they said we should start bottling this. People were going crazy over it,” says Murray.

Achilles Murray, founder of J & T's Gourmet Sauces
Pictured: Achilles Murray | Photo credit: Paul Morgan Photography
Do It Yourself

As a Marine, Murray learned to take leadership and an “if you want things done well, do it yourself” attitude. He started bottling and selling his sauces while living in Parris Island, South Carolina, but couldn’t get the operation up and running as he was always moving.

It wasn’t until years later, when he retired in 2014, that Murray was able to fully dedicate himself to commercializing the sauce his family and friends had grown to love. He rented a kitchen and made 40-80 bottles of his “Original” sauce by hand, which would sell out in two weeks. “It was very daunting at first. We got to a point when we couldn’t keep up with the demand. So we got a business license, hired a copacker to make four different sauces under our label.” Murray now sells around 1200 bottles every six weeks.

Getting started was the most challenging part for Murray as he did not have prior business experience or a mentor. “I learned mostly through trial and error until I got it right. Once we got the paperwork together and started producing more quantities, it was like clockwork,” says Murray attributing his success to the dedication and discipline that he acquired while in the Marine Corps.

Flavor in Every Bottle

Murray named his company after his children (Joshua, Elisa, Tempestt and Leigh) and the flavors for his love for California. Back in Japan, he started with only one homemade sauce, which he calls Original. It is sweet and tangy and has more flavor than any other barbecue sauce, he claims.

J & T's Gourmet Sauces
Pictured: J & T’s Gourmet Sauces | Photo credit: Paul Morgan Photography

Two years ago, he also started experimenting with local ingredients he found in the supermarket. Staying true to his hometown, he added crushed pineapple to the base sauce to create California Crush. Peaches, mangoes and jalapenos inspired the Backyard Boogie flavor. “When I tasted it, I start dancing, and Mack 10’s ‘Backyard Boogie’ song kept playing in my head,” says Murray. And his fourth flavor, San Andreas, blends strawberries, oranges and habanero, presenting an “earthquake in your mouth.”

“The sauces go on anything from Bloody Marys to mac and cheese and lasagna. You could even drink it. That’s how good it is.” As expected, Murray won’t reveal his secret ingredient.

Expanding The Brand

Murray and his wife now live in Camp Pendleton, California, and sell J&T’s Gourmet Sauces at Temecula area farmers markets, online through their website and in retail stores around Southern California. Service members and friends of Murray have ordered his sauces from Japan, Australia, Jordan and Netherlands.

Chicken wings with J & T's Gourmet Sauces
Pictured: Chicken wings with J & T’s Gourmet Sauces | Photo credit: Paul Morgan Photography

But his goal is to get on grocery store shelves across the nation. Murray wants people everywhere to have the same “earthquakes and boogies” on their palates as he has while creating his sauces.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Julius Jackson on Resiliency and Answering the Call for Community in USVI

Cuisine Noir Magazine. September 2020.

Professional chef, author of the cookbook “My Modern Caribbean Kitchen” and a 2008 Olympian boxer representing the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Julius Jackson, knows a little about resiliency. Growing up on the islands, Jackson has witnessed several devastations caused by extreme weather, economic downturn and now a pandemic. However, he has always stayed close to the community and found innovative ways to help those around him.

Alongside his catering, speaking and celebrity guest appearances, Jackson works as head chef and manager at My Brother’s Workshop Café and Bakery in downtown St. Thomas. My Brother’s Workshop (MBW) is a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, counseling, paid job training, education and job placement to at-risk and high-risk young men and women between the ages of 18-24. His job involves teaching students how to work in the food industry, serve customers and manage front and back sections of the bakery as well as attain diplomas online.

Student worker at My Brother's Workshop Cafe and Bakery
Pictured: Student worker at My Brother’s Workshop Cafe and Bakery | Photo credit: MBW Cafe and Bakery

On a typical day, Jackson works with his students to create delectable pastries, sandwiches, coffee and breakfast bites that locals grab on their way to work in downtown Charlotte Amelie. The rum cake, seafood kallaloo and dumb bread are known to be some of the best on the island. “We had regular customers who got to know our youth and we had a good business going,” says Jackson. But for the past few months, the bakery kitchen transformed into a feeding center, cooking and delivering free meals to those in need in partnership with World Central Kitchen.

Stepping up in a Time of Need

Back in March, Jackson did not know what the effects of COVID-19 would be on the community. “Once COVID came to the island, the governor ordered a shutdown and we had to close our doors for a few weeks. It put a lot of economic strain on the people who were already living under the poverty level,” Jackson shares. He already knew of families who didn’t have enough food or money, and many elderly individuals who didn’t feel safe going into grocery stores. His team came up with a plan to discontinue normal bakery operations and instead cook and deliver free meals in partnership with sponsors and existing organizations. The Federal Government’s Department of Human Services also got involved and asked for MBW’s assistance in feeding people around the islands. “We reached a point where we were doing 700 meals a day,” Jackson says.

Employee prepping food at My Brother's Workshop Cafe and Bakery
Pictured: Student workers prepping food at My Brother’s Workshop Cafe and Bakery | Photo credit: MBW Cafe and Bakery

Though the transition for students cooking at a small bakery to now making high-volume banquet meals was tough, they were able to learn new skills under the guidance of good trainers. Also, it took several weeks for some of them to feel safe to come down to work. The families were scared to send their kids, and some take public transportation to get to downtown. Jackson’s team arranged pick-ups and limited capacity in the kitchen to make them feel safe so they could come in and help with the grassroots efforts.

With the help of 78 community partners, board and committee members, staff, trainees and over 115 volunteers, MBW was able to serve 37,923 meals to the vulnerable population on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix over a period of three and a half months.

Once the program ended and it was safe to reopen, the bakery returned to regular service with a new plan. They switched the menu to offer plates of food and specials that people could grab-and-go from a take-out window without having to come inside.

Answering the Call

The pandemic is not the first time that Jackson took a leadership role on the island. Similar to the COVID response, the leadership of MBW came up with a plan before hurricane Irma devastated USVI in 2017. Jackson recalls securing the bakery against flooding, getting curfew passes from FEMA and immediately springing into action cooking and delivering meals. Then a second hurricane, Maria, came and they had to close again. Jackson sent his wife and young son on a rescue cruise ship from St. Thomas to be with relatives in Canada while he stayed behind. “It was tough but necessary. There was no power, no flights, and lots of homes were destroyed. I couldn’t even say goodbye to them as I was standing in long lines to get gasoline so I could cook our next meal. I don’t think anyone saw me, but that moment was hard and I cried,” Jackson recalls emotionally. He and his team fed about 37,000 people during the four to five months after the hurricanes.

Julius Jackson and team in USVI
Pictured: Julius Jackson and team | Photo credit: MBW Cafe and Bakery

Jackson says that knowing like-minded people who have faith in doing great things together is what makes him resilient during difficult times. “If I was by myself, I wouldn’t have been as resilient. But there was a team of us that were confident that we could help serve others. We are passionate about the community and good at execution. We have kind of become the emergency response team here. That’s why I’m here,” he adds.

While there is a second lockdown ordered in USVI, his goal is to keep the youth active and their minds engaged and perhaps restart the free meals program.

For daily menus and hours, visit https://mybrothersworkshop.org/ and Facebook.  Follow Jackson for current happenings on the islands and off on Instagram and Twitter.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Blending Caribbean and Italian Flavors with Chef, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Nik Fields

Cuisine Noir Magazine. September 2020.

Chef Nik, better known as “Nik the Chic Chef “or “Foodie with a Cause,” has merged her passion for food and life.  Over the years, she has gained national recognition for her amazing culinary art skills having prepared cuisine for celebrities such as Jess Hilarious, Supa Cent, Angie Stone, Vivica Fox, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold and Snoop Dogg. Fields is possibly the only Black chef with her own olive farm and a collection of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars. In the past few months, she introduced a new line of syrups and is planning to open a retail store and café.

Fields grew up in Brooklyn, New York, with her Caribbean-American parents who instilled a love for food in her since she was a little girl. She earned a culinary arts degree and traveled to Italy in search of culture and good food. However, her parents discouraged her from working in the culinary field as they did not consider it to be a glamorous career. Fields earned a master’s degree in finance instead, worked at a bank and excelled in her field. She had a family and continued to show her love for food by throwing parties and family dinners.

Create Your Own Path

At age 43, once her daughter graduated from college, Fields decided to pursue her life’s dream in the culinary arts. “I already had the skills and just needed to brush them[up]. I needed confidence to face the competitive environment,” she says.

Chef Nik Fields
Pictured/Photo credit: Nik Fields

Fields also wanted to use her business skills and create her own path in the culinary world. Instead of working from the ground up, she co-created Chic Chef Co. in 2016. She purchased olive groves in Italy, produced olive oil and introduced 15 organic, salt-free and hand-mixed seasonings. “Think of it as a healthier version of Goya. It’s easy, delicious and doesn’t require any cooking,” adds Fields. She recently introduced a line of honey-based organic simple syrups under Chic Chef Co. that come in flavors such as mango lime, jalapeno and lavender vanilla. The products are available online and in select retail stores. Next, Fields is working on a line of sorbets.

When asked what does it takes to create one’s own product line, Fields says, “It takes a lot of testing, trials and errors. You want to pick a product you can stand behind. I have an appreciation for Italian culture and add my spin on it with my Caribbean background. That’s new and unique.”

Fields plans to open a flagship store in January of 2021 in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. The location will also feature a community garden, a restaurant called Chic Chef Co. Marketplace and Café and a private tasting room called Culinary Vibe where Fields will host cooking classes, private dinners and events.

Dish by Chef Nik Fields
Pictured: Rice dish by Chef Nik Fields | Photo credit: Nik Fields

Through her books, this culinary trailblazer also wants to teach others about reducing food waste, the importance of food sustainability and how food stimulates mood and sexual drive. Her third book, “The Chic Chef Approach Volume III: Waste Not Want Not,” releases in October 2020.

Returning to One’s Roots

Fields continues to give back to her cultural background in the Caribbean. Every year, she travels with her team to the island of Hispaniola (an island divided into the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), where they fund clean water programs and help villages build private wells. Her nonprofit organization, Waste Not Want Not (WNWN, Inc.), encourages households and restaurants in the U.S. to limit food waste. They hold seminars for kids and adults in Arizona to teach them about food waste and how to grow their own gardens. “My culture teaches me to help as many people as possible and not to discriminate among the community.” Fields says she plans to mitigate hunger by offering free meals to the homeless populations in Phoenix.

The pandemic has not slowed down Fields and her efforts to help everyone eat better, save money and drink clean water. She adds, “The downtime allowed me to have more focus than before. I learned more aspects about my business and [will] be ready for when the world opens up again.”

Learn more as well as shop with Fields at https://www.chicchefco.com  and follow her Instagram and Facebook for updates on new products and the opening of her flagship store.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Nayana Ferguson of Anteel Tequila Inspires Women to Create Their Own Legacy

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2020.

Nayana Ferguson of the Detroit-based spirit brand Anteel Tequila has always loved tequila.  When that love turned into a passion, she co-founded the tequila brand, which is one of the only tequila spirit brands in the United States to be led by a Black woman. Since launching in 2018, Anteel’s Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila and Reposado Tequila have received national recognition in Forbes and Wine Enthusiast, as well as several awards at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

From Dreaming to Doing

In 2016, Ferguson and her husband, Don, were looking for a retirement opportunity to invest in. They had a wild idea of starting a tequila company given her appreciation for the spirit. Only in this situation, Ferguson was a doer, not a dreamer. Over the upcoming months, she researched everything she needed to know about setting up a tequila business and began talking to potential distilling partners in Mexico. Prior to this, Ferguson didn’t have any knowledge of the spirits industry, but she had an MBA and was a corporate business professional.

Co-founder Nayana Ferguson of Anteel Tequila
Pictured: Nayana Ferguson | Photo credit: Cyrus Tetteh

“It took about 11 months to get an actual bottle in hand. We needed a contract with the distillery, approvals by the Mexican government, importer permits from the U.S. government and so forth.” Ferguson recalls months of sampling recipes, learning about the spirits industry, doing research and filing paperwork. She was not able to visit Mexico due to the political climate there, so she relied a lot on FedEx and Google. The chemist at her partner distillery in Mexico would create recipes and send them to Ferguson and her team to sample. After a lot of back and forth, they achieved the desired flavor profiles they wanted to see in Anteel.

Becoming a Market Leader

When asked why Ferguson is passionate about tequila more than any other spirit, she cited it’s health benefits. Tequila is a spirit that is made from the agave plant, so it is naturally gluten-free and low in carbs, sugar and calories than other spirits. “If I’m going to drink, I would drink what is cleaner for me. Obviously, you need to drink tequila neat and not add extra sugars typically found in mixed drinks,” she states. As a pancreatic cancer and breast cancer survivor, Ferguson needs to watch what she puts into her body and minimize any effects of alcohol. She says that agave does not spike your blood sugar. Unlike other spirits, tequila is said to be an upper, not a downer, and can lift your mood, which is another reason why she likes tequila.

Anteel Tequila claims to have the world’s only coconut lime-flavored tequila, one that took a lot of flavor balancing but is something Ferguson and her other co-founders wanted. It is produced by using natural coconut extracts and avoiding synthetic flavors, which also makes drinking neat easy and flavorful.

Not many tequilas rest their Reposado in whiskey barrels (most use America oak barrels) as Anteel does. This infuses a unique char and flavor into their tequilas. Another thing that makes the brand stand out is the combination of blue agave from highland and lowland.

The Michigan-based brand recently changed the name to Anteel Tequila from TEEQ (Tequila of Extraordinary and Exquisite Quality), which is short for Antillean, a species of hummingbird.  The bird that inspired the name and the logo serves as a reminder of the Fergusons’ first discussion while in the Dominican Republic four years ago as well as the vision for the brand.

Drink with Anteel Tequila's Coconut Lime
Picture: Anteel Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila | Photo credit: Anteel Tequila
Continuing to Push Through

Like many businesses, Anteel has faced a few challenges this year, but they’ve continued to prevail by connecting with their clients and vendors. “Since bars and restaurants are not ordering as much, we are promoting online ordering. We have tried to stay proactive by doing social media marketing and making sure the product is still being produced,” says Ferguson about how she is managing her brand since the pandemic began. Business closures and staff shortages have in turn affected her supply chain, making the production time longer.

Even before the pandemic, it was challenging being an African-American woman in the tequila business for Ferguson. “When I walk into a store, initially some people don’t think I know what I am talking about. But once they see that I have done my homework, they begin to accept me,” she says.

As a mother of two young girls, Ferguson hopes to pave the wave for other Black women who feel they can’t break into a male-dominated business. She advises, “You don’t need to know everything, but you can start somewhere and learn along the way.” She encourages others to go for their dreams and create their own legacies.

Anteel Tequila is made and bottled in Mexico and imported to the U.S. through a distributor in Michigan. The products are available for sale at restaurants, bars and stores in Michigan, California and Florida as well as online. Ferguson recommends checking your local state laws for receiving alcohol by mail.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine.

Traveling Close to Home – Discovering Hidden Gems in Georgia

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2020.

Georgia is the largest state in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Though most people think of Atlanta when they plan a trip to Georgia, the state also offers a variety of historic landmarks, remote hiking trails, evergreen golf grounds, pristine lakes and independent wineries. To explore the entire state, you may need to plan several weekend getaways to different parts. Here are a few notable spots that will allow you to social distance and still feel like you are on vacation.

Rock City Gardens 

Leisurely walk through fourteen acres of trails, caves, waterfalls, and plant life at Rock City Gardens. Here you can see 200-million-year-old rock formations, as well as the surrounding seven states. There are lots of photo opportunities along the way, one of the most famous ones being from Lover’s Leap on Lookout Mountain. Kids and those young at heart will love the artistic recreation of famous fairytales in an underground Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village located inside the garden.

Rock City in Georgia
Pictured: Rock City | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

There are a few charming inns to spend the night at nearby, but if you want to experience something unique, book a stay at the luxurious treehouses at Treetop Hideaways. These unique cabins are located in a secluded area but offer modern amenities including heated floors, air conditioning and kitchens.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Less than 90 minutes from the city of Atlanta, the city of Blue Ridge is home to the Appalachian Mountains, scenic national forests, hundreds of waterfalls, and freshwater lakes. This is a good place if you like to hike, bike, fish, horseback ride, or whitewater raft. Make sure to walk up Amicalola Falls, the tallest cascading waterfall in the South and check out the ancient wall at Fort Mountain State Park inside Chattahoochee National Forest.

For a quieter pace, take a scenic drive, relax by the fireplace at one of the cabins or shop for handmade jewelry and crafts at Momentum on Main in downtown Blue Ridge. Stay at The Overlook Inn, a cozy family-run inn perched on top of the mountain with stunning views of the valley. Here you can be spoiled with spacious rooms with in-suite Jacuzzis and hearty Southern-style breakfasts.

Currahee Vineyard & Winery
Pictured: Currahee Vineyard & Winery | Photo credit: Ralph Daniel

The Peach State also produces some good quality wines. There are over 40 wineries in North Georgia that offer tours as tastings, as well as live music events on the weekends. Sip on sweet muscadine and blackberry wines or full-bodied malbec and cabernet franc while relaxing on the porch, overlooking a sunset.

Savannah

Several small towns make up Georgia’s rustic coastline, offering a combination of secluded beaches, fresh seafood, boutique shopping and Southern history. Cobblestone streets covered with Spanish moss make Savannah a dreamy city that you would only find in the movies. Over 20 city squares make up the Historic District of Savannah, the largest National Historic Landmark District in the United States. Simply walk through the streets and discover old churches, Georgian mansions and fine arts. The River Street area has a number of restaurants overlooking the Savannah River where you can taste Southern specialties such as fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, fried chicken and biscuits and peach Bellini.

While in the area, if you want to spend more time at the beach, head to Tybee Island nearby.

Around Atlanta

If you have only passed through Atlanta for a convention or airport connection, now is the time to learn about some of the historical and cultural sites around the city.

Home to one of the largest movie studios in the country, the sprawling 33-acre Tyler Perry Studios has historic buildings, 12 sound stages and 18 sets that include a baseball field, a jail and a replica of the White House. The studio had plans to begin public tours in 2020, but Atlanta Movie Tours can take you to Tyler Perry’s Madea house, as well as behind the scenes of hits such as “Black Panther,” “The Walking Dead,” “Hidden Figures” and “Selma.”

Center For Civil and Human Right
Pictured: Center For Civil and Human Right | Photo credit: Albert Vecerka

Some of the sights where you can learn about African-American history and culture include The King Center – a living memorial dedicated to legendary civil rights leader and Atlanta native, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Center for Civil and Human Rights showcases moments from the American Civil Rights Movement and Global Human Rights Movements throughout history. The African-American Panoramic Experience (APEX) tells the story of people of the African diaspora.

Be sure to check location websites for COVID-19 updates while planning. Request a 2020 Travel Guide to explore these Georgia destinations and more by visiting https://www.exploregeorgia.org/.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Jumoke Jackson, The Bishop of Biscuits, Releases Cookbook For Fail-Proof Biscuits

Cuisine Noir Magazine. June 2020.

New York City-based Chef Jumoke Jackson is a self-proclaimed “Bishop of Biscuits.” This private chef, caterer and speaker recently authored a cookbook called “Soulfull Biscuits: How to master the art of biscuits” that includes 50 ways to make biscuits, as well as jams and compound butter recipes.

Among his other accomplishments, Jackson graduated from the French Culinary Institute and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. He founded Entrée Metropolitan, a catering and event planning company in 2008 and has cooked for Grammy award-winning artists, politicians and celebrities. Jackson has been featured on ABC’s “The Chew,” “Fox & Friends” morning show, Travel Channel’s “Fiery Foods Challenge” and Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

“I love biscuits! Coming from the South, I have always gravitated toward biscuits. Every time I have had them, I have loved them,” Jackson says about the flaky, buttery puffs that have always been a staple on his dinner table.

The 10 Biscuit Commandments

About a year and a half ago, Jackson ran a biscuit sandwich pop-up in the heart of New York at Urban Space by Madison Square Garden. His “Hot Buttered Soul Sandwich”  — a buttermilk biscuit topped with a piece of fried chicken, mac and cheese and sweet potato puree  — was hugely popular for the 40 days the pop-up ran. People wanted more of his biscuits but did not know how to make them at home, which is what led Jackson to write his cookbook.

Buttermilk biscuits by Jumoke Jackson
Picture: Buttermilk biscuits | Photo credit: Jumoke Jackson

The cookbook contains Jackson’s scripted “10 Biscuit Commandments” or principles that should be followed to make perfect biscuits. “People need to realize that biscuits are very delicate. You have to be gentle with them, treating the dough like a baby and not use brute force,” says Jackson. “You don’t need to overwork it like pizza dough.” He also says to make sure your ingredients are fresh and that your baking powder has not expired.

Another tip he shares is to keep all ingredients, especially dairy, always chilled and not at room temperature. Cold butter helps make the biscuits fluff up while baking. “Butter releases a burst of steam when hot and that’s what makes your biscuit magical,” he adds. Jackson also advises using good quality unsalted butter to control the salt content. The rest of his commandments or biscuit making tips and tricks can be found in his “Soulfull Biscuits” cookbook that is available in eBook format on his website and soon on Amazon.

Don’t Forget About Flavor

Jackson likes to experiment with different flavors and fillings. “Aside from the traditional buttermilk biscuit, my second favorite is sweet potato biscuit,” he shares. In addition, he is big on combining different herbs and cheeses to make interesting variations. Some of the biscuit flavors he has introduced include rosemary and parmesan, thyme and pecorino, cinnamon roll, blueberry and yeast biscuits. He shares that you can also stuff the biscuits with a surprise filling such as jam, brie and apple or blackberry compote. “Fill the raw dough with whatever you like as long as you handle it as little as possible,” he advises.

Jumoke Jackson with blueberry biscuits
Pictured: Jumoke Jackson with blueberry biscuits | Photo credit: Jumoke Jackson

There are two main ways to cook biscuits. The most traditional way is using a cast-iron skillet that holds heat better, resulting in a crispier biscuit. The second is baking biscuits on a sheet pan in a conventional oven that is more straightforward and does not make a huge difference in the quality of the final product.

During the recent pandemic, many people have taken to baking at home. Biscuits are one of the most popular treats to bake and Jackson has been keeping busy, teaching virtual biscuit making classes via Chefs Feedplatform. “Many people are intimated by biscuits at first, but once they figure out how to make them, it feels really good!”

Now that we have you ready to create your own biscuit magic, be sure to try Jackson’s buttermilk biscuit recipe.

To purchase a copy of “Soulfull Biscuits: How to master the art of biscuits,” as well as try over savory recipes by Jackson, visit www.chefjjackson.com.  You can also stop by and follow his Instagram page for upcoming classes, more food and a few laughs.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Autism Influencer and Baker, Jeremiah Josey, is Inspiring Kids Around the World

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Dec 2019.

At only 20 years old, Jeremiah Josey is a Maryland-based baker, model, author and inspirational speaker. He has walked the New York Fashion Week runway, appeared on Steve Harvey’s show three times, and was recently called out as one of 14 top autism influencers on social media by ‘Autism on The Mighty’ community. And he has accomplished all this while suffering from autism, a development disorder that restricts one’s communication skills.

Josey started baking with his grandmother in his early teens. Her sunny side up eggs called “egg in a basket,” that she often made, enamored him.  He learned to perfect the eggs and set off to discover a world of pastries and desserts. Be it the holidays, family birthdays, or weekends, Josey often found himself alongside “grandma” baking pumpkin pie, blueberry pie, peanut butter cookies, pumpkin chocolate cheesecake, and chocolate cake. “We cook from love and put our heart and soul in it,” Josey says about his cooking.

When Josey expressed a passion for cooking, his mom reached out to Washington, D.C.-based “Top Chef” Kwame Onwuachi and asked if Josey could come and cook with him at his restaurant. He agreed and it set Josey on a journey of cooking alongside celebrity chefs all around the world. During one of his appearances on “Steve,” Harvey surprised the young star with an impromptu baking session with celebrity pastry chef Christina Tosi, founder of the dessert and bakery restaurant chain Milk Bar.

Dreaming Big Together

Josey got his first passport this past summer and since then has traveled to Bermuda to bake alongside different chefs and speak on autism at schools. He has been invited to Jamaica and Quatar in 2020. He tells other children, “Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you cannot pursue your passion and have big dreams.” He also records his journeys for his YouTube channel – Jeremiah’s Cooking Adventures.

Josey’s biggest inspiration has been his mother, Simone Greggs. “She always told me, ‘You can do it. It may take you longer, you may need to find a creative way, but you can do it.’ She has never left my side and we wouldn’t know what we would do without each other,” he says. His biggest challenges have been overcoming stage fright and the fear of public speaking due to lack of self-confidence, but he practices at home and is getting used to it.

Autism Influencer and Baker Jeremiah Josey
Photo credit: Jamie Cheyenne

The mother and son duo co-wrote a picture book — “Here’s What I Want You to Know” — based on a conversation they had when Josey was bullied at school. “I took his words and created the book to help African American, Hispanic and ethnic minority parents who have just received the diagnosis that their kids have autism,” adds Greggs.

When asked about his future plans, Josey continues to work on his “big dreams.” His mother is compiling all the recipes he has prepared with celebrity chefs for a cookbook. He is currently working on a new clothing line called Passport Adaptive™ to launch in 2020 and trying to get into culinary school. Some of the culinary schools are not ready to accept autistic students and it’s not easy for Josey to take entrance tests, so this has been challenging. He would also like to open his own bakery called Jeremiah’s Cakes and Shakes.

This young baking star is just getting started and the biggest advice he shares with kids with autism is to be happy, to be excited about their work and never stop dreaming or following their passions.

For updates on Josey’s baking journey and adventures,  follow him on Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

A Modern Take on Sierra Leonean Cuisine: Here’s What’s Cooking in Maria Bradford’s Kitchen

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Nov 2019.

Maria Bradford is changing the way diners perceive African cuisine. She pairs her African-inspired modern savory street food snacks with English cakes and scones and caters them to a tea party in London. She mixes hibiscus with strawberries picked at her neighborhood farm in Kent and sells the “Passionately Bissap” juice bottles through her online store.

Bradford is a native of the West African country Sierra Leone that is typically associated with transatlantic slavery, Ebola, poverty and corruption. “I divert the conversation to food,” says Bradford, founder of Maria Bradford Kitchen, based in the UK. “I talk about my fun childhood in Sierra Leone, where I was surrounded by aunties and grandparents. Though I had a single parent, I was always around people.” Bradford points out that Sierra Leon is also known for welcoming people, beautiful beaches and great food.

Childhood Foods Reinvented

If you browse through Bradford’s Instagram page (which has 22K followers and counting), you can visualize the comforting, yet contemporary food she is referring to. Bradford did not want to present the stereotypical West African dishes, such as peanut stew and jollof rice. Instead, she is inspired by the street food she fondly loved as a child but was not allowed to eat, as her mother considered eating on the street to be rude. “I would use my taxi fare and walk back home so I could buy donuts after school,” she points to the inspiration behind her pumpkin drop donuts with cinnamon sugar. Her sophisticated dishes, such as fish untu (steamed fish balls) and lemongrass soup, morkor (sweet and savory banana fritters), cassava flatbread with pan-fried sea bass, use the flavors and ingredients from Africa and are presented with her own unique twist.

Bradford’s culinary journey started only a few years ago when she was cooking for family and friends. Her first catering gig — a cousin’s baby shower in London — motivated her to start her own business. She created an Instagram page, enrolled in culinary school, set up a catering business, and started a product line selling drinks and sauces.

Juices from Maria Bradford Kitchen
Photo credit: Maria Bradford Kitchen

Bradford creates the Sierra Leonean-inspired drinks and chili sauces with seasonal, natural ingredients. “Again, I took from the beverages sold from bicycles on the streets and had my own take on them,” Bradford explains. With tropical flavors of coconut water, lavender, tamarind juice, ginger, hibiscus and mango, the different juice concoctions are great as cocktail mixers. She advises drinking them by themselves or adding a bit of brandy or whiskey for a special holiday treat. Passionately Bissap pairs exceptionally well with gin or prosecco. The products are available online on her website or by messaging her through her Instagram page.

Travel, Food and a Cookbook
Maria Bradford of Maria Bradford Kitchen
Photo credit: Maria Bradford Kitchen

When not cooking, Bradford is traveling and drawing inspiration from other chefs around the world. She takes cooking classes, cooks with local chefs, hosts pop-up restaurants and draws parallels between how people eat in Sierra Leone versus the rest of the world. In Javier, Spain, she went down to the fishing bay each morning and cooked with the locals. “Growing up, 90% of my diet was fish, as it was cheap and accessible, so I love to cook with fish,” she says. You can see many of her fish dishes in her picture feed. In Malaysia, she compares the chicken satay to Sierra Leone peanut chicken. Her latest travels took her and her family to a homestay in India, where she learned to cook from an older lady in Kerala. “It reminded me of my own family and how we love to invite strangers,” she adds.

“A cookbook is definitely coming at some point,” says Bradford, but currently she is focusing on renting a commercial kitchen where she can host frequent supper clubs as she continues to positively showcase the flavors of West Africa.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.