Inspired by Gran, Alum and Her Mother Create Island-Influenced Sauces, Spices and Sweets
Nyana Quashie ’15, left, and her mother, Karen, source ingredients for their hot sauces, herb rubs and chutneys from Project EDEN in Washington, D.C., seen here. Their company, Camella's Kitchen, honors Nyana’s grandmother, Camella (below), and the family's Caribbean background.
The prospect of a mother-daughter business might induce nightmarish visions of constant bickering, eye-rolling, and pestering over financial decisions. (Not speaking from any personal experience with mothers, of course.)
But Nyana Quashie ’15 and her mother, Karen, are harmoniously running Camella’s Kitchen, a spice and seasoning company they started to honor Karen’s late mother, Camella, and the family’s Caribbean heritage.
“It’s been a wonderful experience working with my mom,” said Quashie. “Just being able to learn from her and how she worked with her mom—hearing those stories and being able to do some of those same things … has been amazing.”
All three women were born in Trinidad and Tobago, a country whose culinary history they celebrate with a range of hot sauces, herb rubs and sweets. The country’s ethnic diversity contributes to its gastronomic riches, said Karen, pointing to Indian curries, African stews and Chinese wontons as influences. The national favorite, callaloo, is a dish of dark greens flavored with pumpkin, onions, coconut milk and spices.
“What is noted with our food is that we use a lot of hot sauces,” said Karen. “At almost every home in my country, you can find pepper sauces and Caribbean green seasoning. People use to season their meats, seafood and also to put in their other dishes.”
For the past two and a half years, Nyana and Karen have worked out of their home in Prince George’s County, spending 30 or more hours a week blending up sauces in their kitchen and baking Caribbean fruit cakes in their oven to sell online and showcase at community events, food festivals and wineries. They source their ingredients from local Black-owned farms like Project EDEN in Washington, D.C., which provides job training and nutrition education to youth in Southeast D.C.
“It is so important to be able to source locally, and be able to reinvest back into the community, because a lot of what our farmer partners do is work directly with people from the community. They employ them, and they also tend to donate food as well,” said Quashie.
The duo’s pumpkin spice pepper sauce, mango pepper sauce, island herb blends and Caribbean fruit cakes have been a hit at pop-up food events and in the pages of the Spring issue of Clean Eating magazine, where the pumpkin spice pepper sauce was dubbed an “Editor’s Obsession.”
The pair is proud to carry on the tradition of grandmother Camella, who used to sell her own food goods at marketplaces around Trinidad. That was “where my journey began,” said Karen, who assisted her mother in the kitchen and in selling her products.
Today, Karen, who also works at a hospital as a nursing assistant, is the primary cook and flavor creator behind Camella’s Kitchen, while Nyana, who studied geographical sciences at Maryland, handles operations full-time. The work isn’t such a far cry from her field of study, she said, which examined the role humans play in their communities, with a focus on how people live sustainably.
Nyana and Karen hope that their small-batch creations will continue to grow nationally. “We are putting in a lot of work, and it’s actually being recognized,” said Nyana. “That’s awesome.”
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