This is the second in a series of posts profiling the residents who serve on the Feeding Potrero Catering Team. Over the past year and a half, this team of Potrero Hill Terraces and Annex community members, under supervision of Leah’s Pantry staff, has bonded over a love of good food and a desire to uplift their community. Cooking together in love and service of the community, has turned this team into a family. We wanted to share a little bit about each member. Here's Niesha!
Niesha Brown has been an indispensible member of our Feeding Potrero catering team over the past 2 years. This 39 year old mother of an adult son is an ambitious, caring, community-minded woman. And lucky for us, she’s an unstoppable cook who started cooking at the age of 10. Her parents were busy working and Niesha had to make food for herself. She didn’t consider it “fun” then but as adult, she declares, “Now, I love to cook!....I can’t stop cooking.”
Niesha credits the older women in her life with providing her culinary training-- her mom, aunts, and her mother-in-law were a significant source of some of her best tips and recipes. Her mom would send her to her aunt’s house where she watched her make her famous potato salad. Eventually Niesha became the expert potato salad maker at the age of 13.
As a young adult, Niesha moved out of her mother’s home and began raising her own family. Her Nicaraguan mother-in-law was another great source of culinary skills. Her mother-in-law’s way of making rice is still one of her favorite techniques. The secret is to simmer water or broth separately from the rice, then add the hot liquid to the rice pot. The grains stay separate, fluffy, and firm.
While acknowledging the culinary influence of others, Niesha also recognizes her own culinary style: “I like to do my thing.” She says she gets tired of eating the same things and seeks to evolve from the tastes and skills she learned as a child. Niesha continues to look for new culinary ideas to make her own. She credits her work with Leah’s Pantry for providing inspiration with vegetables and healthier seasonings. She says that the hands-on experience of preparing delicious dishes with fresh produce is responsible for some new habits. “By me working with Leah’s Pantry, it just opened my eyes to much more things that are out there. Things that I would never have tried before, like persimmon….” She has started cooking mostly with olive oil, roasting vegetables, frying her food less, and eating more fresh vegetables. Roasting is now one of her favorite techniques: “All I am doing is roasting, roasting vegetables…. It’s good,” she exclaims. She has come to appreciate the taste of fresh vegetables without the use of heavy salty seasonings. Niesha attests that cooking on the team has resulted in weaning herself off chips and soda and eating more fruits and vegetables. These changes have made her “feel much better on the inside.”
Being a professional cook and opening a restaurant was a dream Niesha shared with her belated husband. Even though he died before they could realize that dream, she still cooks to impress. “For the individual that is eating my food, you want them to be like ‘Damn, that’s good!’” She is very proud that the neighborhood is buzzing with conversation as a result of the delicious food that she and the Feeding Potrero team prepares. Cooking for the families at Potrero Hill with the catering team feels incredibly important to her. In addition to enjoying cooking and the praise it garners, providing people in her community with a pleasurable experience is an important part of giving back. Growing up around aunties and uncles gathering together with food, fun, and love left a lasting impression on Niesha and is a gift she wants to share.
There is one person she finds the hardest to impress with her cooking: her mother. While her mother enjoys Niesha’s cooking, she often serves as her primary food critic. Still, Niesha regularly sends plates over to her mom--proof that she truly feeds as a means to express her love. And in that generous spirit, Niesha happily shares the secret of her family’s potato salad: finely chopped pimiento.