Hot Luck Festival Features San Antonio Jerk Shack’s Nicola Blaque


When world-renowned chef Aaron Franklin texted Nicola Blaque a few months ago, the Jerk Shack owner was surprised.

“I know people know me, but I don’t think people to know about me,” Blaque says. “It was like, ‘Whoa, Aaron Franklin knows how to reach me.'”

Franklin is, in addition to being a James Beard Foundation award winner and owner of the most famous barbecue restaurant in the country, the co-founder of Hot Luck, the famous DIY cooking and music festival. Franklin books his guest chefs for the event on a whim, often by text message, and without the slightest formality.

Blaque, who also owns Caribbean street food restaurant Mi Roti, says just two years ago she cooked at a foodie event and was a few stalls away from Franklin, who didn’t know not yet who she was. A lot has changed since then, as Jerk Shack has become a San Antonio institution, serving beef patties, jerk chicken, coconut butter buns and other Caribbean dishes that reflect the pride it takes. a from his Jamaican upbringing.

Blaque won’t say what she cooks, but promises it will be Caribbean-inspired and something off the menu.

Courtesy, Jason Risner

In fact, Blaque was forced to open the restaurant in 2018 after returning to Jamaica for her aunt’s funeral. That week, she ate one of the best jerk chickens of her life. When she returned to San Antonio and realized there were only four Caribbean restaurants in the entire city, she says she felt a call from beyond the grave.

“It was my aunt talking to me,” she said, “telling me to carry on.”

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, she did just that. Just one year after opening, Eater named Jerk Shack among its top new restaurants listing.

Blaque says once she picked up the call with Franklin – who told her she could cook whatever she wanted – she scoured the Hot Luck website to see what others had done. over the years and asked his team to come up with an idea. When asked what this idea could be for Al Fuegothe massive flagship event held at the Wild Onion Ranch on Saturday, May 28, Chef Jerk Shack gives nothing away.

“It will be Caribbean inspired,” she laughs.

Blaque tries to cook dishes that aren’t already on the Jerk Shack menu and never cooks the same thing twice at events like Hot Luck. She says it allows her to use food festivals as a tool to draw people into the restaurant and show off what she has to offer.

“I just want to explore Caribbean cuisine and show what Caribbean cuisine can be in Texas,” she says. “I made tacos. My last event, we made a Caribbean-inspired ceviche. I use it to tie multiple cultures together.”

The chef says she’s excited about Hot Luck because it’s an opportunity to interact directly with the customer in a live setting. At Al Fuego, attendees pay a flat fee and wander from stand to stand, tasting food and chatting with chefs.

“I love it,” Blaque says. “It’s also inspiring for my staff because they can see, firsthand, the one-to-one connection with the customer and hear like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome.'”

Blaque will cook at Al Fuego, the main event of Hot Luck, on Saturday, May 28 at Wild Onion Ranch.

Blaque will cook at Al Fuego, the main event of Hot Luck, on Saturday, May 28 at Wild Onion Ranch.

Courtesy, Jason Risner

Blaque says getting Franklin’s call feels like a kind of validation, even though she already has confidence in her abilities as a leader.

“I’m finally chosen for the A team,” she said. “I want to show off and I really want to impress. I don’t want to let anyone guess what I’m doing. I’m finally here to play and I’m ready to show you all my skills.”

Blaque says she’s excited to show what she can do and make new connections while in Austin, especially because she sees how small her circle is in the industry.

“I’m a minority chef, I’m a female chef,” she says. “In San Antonio, we are very few in number. I want the pool of people like me to grow and see more of us at these types of events.”

She also agrees that San Antonio doesn’t get its due as a major foodie city the way Houston or Austin does.

“I don’t know what it is. I don’t know where the disconnect is,” Blaque said.

She mentions the national notoriety she has enjoyed, thanks to publications such as QG and southern life. It designates several chiefs named by James Beard of San Antonio. Either way, she says, the city doesn’t get the same kind of love that others might get with equivalent accolades.

“Hopefully with us being linked to bigger events like Hot Luck, it will bring more exposure to the great food we do here in San Antonio,” Blaque said. “And that our chefs are just as capable as any other chef in any other big city.”


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