The Great Northern Migration of Ingredients
It’s late into the evening when Nova Williams of N’Dulgence Catering Co. returns home from the kitchen and classroom at Cuyahoga Community College, where at 35, she is finally earning her culinary arts degree after being a natural talent for so many years.
Meetings follow her rigorous course load, and planning catering orders for the week has taken even more time out of an already busy schedule. Just as she’s about to make herself comfortable, a familiar knock at the door rouses her from the couch.
“People are always stopping by! ‘What you cookin,’ Nova? Do you have any leftovers?’” she laughs, describing her friends’ and family’s insatiable appetite for her home cooking. “That’s where my passion is at. I love to cook.”
Williams was at Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen when she met Clark Pope, who had taken an interest in her crispy fried chicken and her dedication to every step in the cooking process from conception to cleaning up the aftermath. “I never knew Clark would be paying attention to anything I was doing.”
She was surprised when he asked her to come on board to help him design the menu for a brand new project he was catering called Gather in Glenville. “Sometimes I think I’m crazy—people told me I should wait until I finish school to start my company, but I get opportunities like these and I know I’m going in the right direction,” she says happily.
For the brunch menu, Williams went back to her roots as well as her fiancé’s, to create a dish and sides that are Southern and part Creole (Beyoncé isn’t the only one with hot sauce in her bag). “My dad is from Alabama and my mom is from Tennessee,” she says. “I don’t know if I want to be pegged as just Southern cooking, but I can cook it all.”
Williams, a quick learner, gave herself a crash course in NOLA’s recipes, where her fiancé was born and raised, to make him happy. “He misses home and the food from home from time to time, so I decided to start doing it myself.” Williams is truly a people pleaser and her currency just happens to be in hungry folk’s bellies.
The result is fried chicken with red beans and rice for patrons of Gather in Glenville’s brunch club. Williams begins with farm-raised chicken, which she seasons and pan-fries to a golden crisp. Red kidney beans and New Orleans spicy Andouille sausage, smoked turkey and Cajun seasoning coalesce, topped with long grain jasmine white rice and cut scallions.
“Clark had wanted chicken and waffles. Pastry is something that I do well but [often] I just don’t have the patience for,” Williams laughs. For the August edition of “brunch club” Williams consented, adding the addition of a waffle bar to the menu. Williams also created bite sized sweet potato tarts, a sweet and savory side, from scratch to serve with all of the brunch dishes, along with a buttery Cajun cornbread, baked with jalapenos.
The Gather in Glenville menu differs from her catering creations, which have a larger emphasis on healthy meals, utilizing Italian recipes and often seafood. N’Dulgence Catering Co. was started a little over a year ago when Williams started taking bulk orders for lunch from her fiancé’s co-workers whom worked in a large warehouse together. “They are blue collar. They work really hard for their money every other week,” says Williams earnestly. “When they saw what they were getting for that $20, they absolutely loved it.”
Ultimately, Williams would like to open N’Dulgence Catering Co. up as a take-out joint to serve her friends, family, and community, in addition to large order catering for special events and businesses after she completes her degree. “In the beginning, that will be the most economical,” she says.
“That’s how we grew up, but at a lot of the older soul food and BBQ joints, the older people have retired and the kids take over. They just don’t have the same integrity and work ethic as the original owners. Please give a damn!” Williams shouts. “You can tell in the food when they don’t care!”
To get a taste of food made with real soul, made to satisfy strangers and family alike, check out Chef Nova William’s dishes at Gather in Glenville this upcoming Sunday, August 14th during brunch, which runs from 11 a.m. until she runs out. To reserve your plate, buy a ticket in advance to the seated brunch here.