Dawn Skeete serves up healthy ethnic meals

Salt can be substituted with seasonings says Skeete. She gave participants samples of Jamaica Grill’s special seasoning and a hotter sauce.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Dawn Skeete arrived in New York in 1971 from Jamaica; she was 10 years old and came of age here. Thoroughly American, she is still deeply embedded in Jamaican culture.

After a career for almost two decades as a management consultant at TIAA-CREF, the company relocated. Faced with: “What should I do?” Skeete turned to food.

Skeete is the founder and owner, with her mother and husband as partners, of Jamaica Grill, 321 Nostrand Ave., a catering and take out restaurant that has all the typical Jamaican foods that remind diners of home. The restaurant opened in 2009.

Her Bed-Stuy restaurant attracts folks from all races and classes and in addition to Jamaican style, she says, “I try to do a fusion with other cultures,” like Rasta pasta, mixing Jamaican with Italian, or mixing it up with Chinese in jerk shrimp fried rice.

Jamaica cooking is not necessarily healthy, but that’s not how Skeete sees it. “The ingredients are healthy,” she says. And she wants to keep them so.

Like any small business, it has its ups and downs and Skeete found out about the free business training courses offered by Flatbush-based CAMBA’s Small Business Services and signed on for the 10-week “Entrepreneurial Assistance Program—Taking Care of Business (TCB)” that guides existing and start-up businesses in writing a comprehensive, investor-ready business plan. One of her goals: to grow the business.

More basic courses such as the month-long “Writing a Business Plan 101” are also offered. Contact: [email protected], 718-282-2500.)

Among her class of 15 participants there were formal and informal business owners and some looking to start a business. Some like herself had graduated college without a clue of financial management. “I fell into that category,” she admits and that learning how to look at the finances of running a business was one of the most important lessons of the class.

Market Feasibility and Industry Analysis (how to use research to drive the business) was an integral component in the program. This course requirement took time and investigation but, her research affected the trajectory of her business.

She discovered how high the prevalence of diabetes was in the geographic area of her business and also, how limited access was to healthy foods.

“What can we do to help people do better in ordering,” she thought, wanting to offer a variety of menu items and provide a product to satisfy their needs.

For her final project in class–the pitch given on the last day, she described a diabetic and healthy menu she wanted to implement at her restaurant.

With zeal for healthy-eating and a passionate presentation, CAMBA tapped Skeete to give a three-session series in healthy cooking demonstrations–followed by enjoying the foods presented – to the central Brooklyn community, this summer.

The just-completed July series, held at the Dutch Reformed Church on Flatbush and Church, was part of EmblemHealth’s Live Healthy program partnered with Greater Brooklyn Health Coalition (GBGH), among others.

The first week menu included roasted chicken and vegetables; the second week, grilled salmon and salad, the final week included tilapia, rice and peas cooked with coconut milk and a mélange of cooked greens.

Skeete talked about healthy techniques in cooking–focusing on cutting down on salt with tasty seasonings.

Her mantra: when available, always use fresh herbs. She described her pepper sauce as a blend of thyme, ginger, garlic, onion and scotch bonnet pepper.

These aromatics, mixed in a blender, were cooked with the chopped mustard, kale and collard greens, adding incredible flavor.

Canarsie-resident Evalina Irish-Spencer anxiously awaited the last session, having also attended the previous two .

“Don’t laugh,” she answered to the question, what do you do? “I’m a dietitian (with a masters degree). I give classes. I took these classes to be on the other side and relax and I’m having a blast.”

What has she learned? “I learned about seasonings so you don’t have to use salt. I’ll use on my own at home.’ At the final demo, Skeete gave samples of her special (secret) seasoning and hot sauce.

Starting Aug. 8, Skeete will give a new three-part series of free healthy food demonstrations in Bed Stuy. To sign up emblemhealthlivehealthy.com/register/)

In addition, GBHC and EmblemHealth and CAMBA will also offer free Cardio Kickboxing, Afro Caribbean Dance, and seminars on the Affordable Care Act and Emergency Preparedness, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. To sign up call 1-866-653-1705. To sign up: emblemhealthlivehealthy.com/upcoming-events or call 1-866-653-1705.

One of Skeete’s biggest challenges in the CAMBA course was to run her restaurant, go to class and do the research. Time management became an added skill she developed.

After the demo and discussion about healthy cooking– with recipes, participants get to taste the foods cooked by Dawn Skeete.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

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