Local Brings A Taste of West Africa to the Beach

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There is a saying that youth is wasted on the young, but local 24-year-old BabaJide “Jide” Alao, a model, surfer, college student and now budding food entrepreneur, disputes that notion as this summer, time was of the essence to introduce his beloved Nigerian food to his hometown, Rockaway with his food cart, TheCradleNYC.

From Nigerian jollof rice, fish, beef, chicken, fried plantains and even ewa oloyin (sweet beans), Alao pulled no punches in curating the menu for TheCradleNYC, and says he not only wanted to showcase authentic Nigerian food, but also slightly infuse traditional recipes with a healthy twist.

“One of our most popular dishes that I personally worked on with a chef is the Nigerian jollof rice, which I chose to make vegan. (Jollof rice is usually red in color and consists of rice cooked with tomatoes, tomato paste, oil, onions, salt, a variety of spices and hot peppers). My vegan Nigerian jollof rice tastes good, if not better than regular jollof rice that usually incorporates beef or chicken stock. I created it from a vegan perspective to offer something healthy for beachgoers and Nigerians in general. Being a Nigerian, we do eat a lot of carbs and foods that are fried, so I tried to offer a health-conscious menu, that’s still very tasty,” he said.

Being health conscious is something constantly on Alao’s mind, as a professional model, who surfs as a hobby. “I am a model, and for the last five years I’ve been cooking my own food, and working on ways to keep in shape, without necessarily having to be in the gym five to seven days a week, so I wanted to produce a product that’s healthy without comprising the Nigerian rich flavor. For example, the sweet potatoes, the chicken and cod fish are baked, as opposed to fried. The only food that is fried are the sweet plantains, which is a staple in Nigerian dishes,” Alao said.

The young chef, who is represented by NYC’s premier modeling agency, Major Model NY, models not just stateside, but internationally for brands such as Coca-Cola, Fubu, Warby Parker, Apple, Fila, Quilo, Bombas, FinishLine, UrbanZen (DKNY) and Tiffany&Co. Also he is finishing up his electrical engineering degree at NYC College of Technology.

From modeling to school and now his West African food business, how does the young millennial balance it all?

Alao admitted that it’s tough. “Pursuing modeling, while simultaneously finishing up my degree has been hard. For example, I would get a call about a modeling assignment in North Carolina, Los Angeles, or South Africa, and have to leave immediately, but I feel all these experiences are strengthening my vocational aspirations, and personal growth. 

“For example, while I was modeling for three months in South Africa, I saw that there weren’t many Nigerian restaurants, so I made it my mission to find a Nigerian food market. Once I found it, I was cooking every day for myself and my roommates, who were from different parts of the world, and got to try my Nigerian dishes, while I was there cheffing it up. So yes, I’m really busy, but again just being in South Africa was a step forward to my dream of creating my own West African food business,” Alao said.

Alao moved to the U.S. from Nigeria at the age of five, and lives in Arverne with his family. He shared that his love for cooking Nigerian food comes from his mom. “My mom is a professional chef. Before I was born, she had two restaurants in Lagos, Nigeria. Even now, she still cooks and does catering for some Nigerian parties. So, she’s a big inspiration to me, not just as a lover of eating Nigerian food, but creatively cooking it for others, “Alao said.

When asked why he chose to plant his TheCradleNYC food cart in Rockaway, as opposed to Manhattan or another borough, Alao said, “I have lived in Rockaway for over 15 years, I know the people, and have witnessed the community’s evolution, especially since Hurricane Sandy. We’ve evolved into this beautiful beach town and have become more diverse in terms of food venues and things to do. Rockaway doesn’t have any Nigerian food at all, and I was determined to introduce my culture’s food to the community I grew up in.”

Alao said that it took a year and a half for him to fine tune TheCradleNYC’s menu and concept for the food cart.

“Getting the food cart was a very big determination. It was an endeavor that truly pushed my limits to earnestly illustrate how much I wanted to open this business. Initially, I designed how I wanted the food cart to look and function, but it would have cost me upwards of $11K. I prayed and thought about it, and realized it would be too much for me. So, I found a food cart that was more cost effective in Portland, Oregon. I flew out there, and amazingly it was the food cart that I had sketched out. I drove it myself to Rockaway, over 3,000 miles, but totally worth it.”

When asked why the name, TheCradleNYC, Alao’s response was truly endearing. “A baby is carried in a cradle, which translates to my food cart business. This is my first endeavor—hopefully of many, many to come—so TheCradleNYC represents something that I cherish and care for on a daily basis because it’s what I love to do,” he said.

TheCradleNYC has been up and running since July on the boardwalk and judging from the reviews, Alao is making a  big hit. “Folks who try the food are blown away. Their perception of what Nigerian food tastes like has completely turned around. They see for themselves that Nigerian food is not too spicy, overly seasoned or unhealthy. I only use 100 percent natural ingredients, and people can taste the difference, and keep coming back for more. For example, I open at noon, and by 3 p.m., I’m already sold out. It’s truly amazing!” Alao shared.

Besides the food cart, TheCradleNYC also caters. The menu offers vegan options, including appetizers, entrees and homemade fruit beverages. So folks, to get a taste of Nigeria, you don’t have to go far, just head to Beach 73rd Street.

 

TheCradleNYC is open Wednesday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday, until 8 p.m. on the boardwalk at Beach 73rd Street. For more info, check out @TheCradleNYC on Instagram or visit: thecradlellc.com.

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