BY TIFFANY JOHNSON
If we are fortunate, we have those vivid memories of cooking meals in the kitchen with our mom. Whether after a long day of work or school, prepping for Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner, those moments are etched in our hearts and our minds forever. Thankfully. For Erique Berry, cooking in the kitchen with her mother was an integral part of her childhood. In the beginning, she sat back and watched her mom create masterpieces like her beloved chicken and dumplings or pineapple upside down cake.
“I FELT LIKE SHE TRULY LOVED ME . . . IF I WOULD REQUEST EITHER ONE OF THOSE AND SHE WOULD MAKE IT,” BERRY RECALLED.
She adored her mother, Erica Preston, and loved to be in her presence, especially when dinner was being prepared. That was Erique’s chance to catch her mom up on the most recent gossip from her high school. However, when she was 15 years old her mom let her know if she was going to be taking up space in the kitchen, then she needed to do something to contribute to their meals. The time to sit back and watch was over, causing a new love to be ignited.
[a throwback photo of her mother, Erica, that erique shared on instagram]
Erique understood, and acted accordingly, because of course she still wanted to remain in the kitchen where she could soak up on quality bonding time with her mother. She started by learning how to cook spaghetti, followed by putting her own spin on fried chicken. Wanting to carry the fellowship type of feeling associated with a shared meal, Berry made it a point to establish cooking Sunday dinner with her friends while attending college at North Carolina A&T University.
Those same friends at A&T, and its community, were there to lift her up and offer comfort during her junior year of college, in 2005, when her mother passed away from pulmonary fibrosis. Berry took a week off from school, then dove back into schoolwork in hopes that it would help her as she searched for a new normal by remaining connected to those she loved.
"I DON'T KNOW IF I WOULD HAVE BEEN . . . ANYWHERE ELSE IF I WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO FINISH SCHOOL, BECAUSE A&T, YOU KNOW, FROM THE PEOPLE THAT I WORKED WITH AND STAFF AND OTHER FELLOW STUDENTS THEY REALLY, LIKE, RALLIED . . . YOU KNOW RALLIED AROUND TO MAKE SURE . . . I COULD FINISH," SAID ERIQUE.
Years after graduation, Berry started to self-reflect and in the process she "started kind of having this realization that I wasn't thinking about my mother as much, and you know that's a part of healing, but at the same time it made me sad." So, she channeled the part of her childhood where she felt close and connected to her mother, which included preparing and cooking meals, and decided to share those meals with folks by creating a blog. Thus, in some way allowing her to create new memories of which she knows her mother would be proud.
Erique’s blog, Eriqueberry.co, did not happen overnight as it actually took about eight years to pull the trigger and get the website launched. Like most of us, we have solid ideas in our head. Somedays we get overly excited about the notion of an entrepreneurial endeavor. We go all in with the planning, and want to share our ideas with the world. Then, when it is time for execution on those ideas, life happens. In her case, she got a new job, ultimately moved, among other things which caused the blog to be placed on the back burner.
However, in 2020 she outsourced the creation of her website to a vendor so that she could spend the bulk of her time focusing on content creation. Erique is active on social media, and has become a student of photography so that she can provide high quality food photos to her audience. In an ideal world, to maintain consistency, she will post a meal or snack photo across her social media platforms each week on Sunday. Working full-time in education, where she supports students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and establishing a successful blog can be intense to juggle. However, she wants people to know, it is possible. She stated, “We can have it all. We can be on this 9 to 5 grind, but still want to cook and care for our families . . . I think a lot of things change over meals. Meals bring people together.”
Growing up in the city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina she often shared meals with her family in the nearby small town of Rural Hall. Here her relatives had their own gardens and grew fruits and vegetables. The memories of running around their yard with pear and apples trees in sight, coupled with other fresh produce such as squash, watermelon, and strawberries being within reach and the memory of snapping green beans with her great grandma Betty, led Erique to want to be responsible with the food shared on her platform. While she does make foods like macaroni and cheese, or certain dessert recipes that do not always allow for healthier ingredient substitutions, when possible, she enjoys making meals healthier in an effort “to make sure we’re still cooking but we’re also serving the purpose of providing our body with nutrition.” As she reflected on her upbringing, she shared how her family places importance on what goes into their bodies, and making a connection not only with food, but with growing food, when possible. Erique mentioned, “I want to inspire people to look outside of just the grocery store for your groceries,” urging folks to consider farming options, such as shopping at local farms and farmer’s markets, and to be intentional about learning the education behind food to maximize benefit for our bodies.
If you are in search of a food blogger to follow, she is a refreshing option as her passion drives her to create, not the hype of gaining more followers, which she believes would take the fun out of the journey. Please do not be intimidated if you follow her on Instagram and notice that her feed is full of top tier photos that look like they were pulled from a magazine, deep down, she is just like the rest of us when it comes to cooking. Erique acknowledged that “Instagram kind of gives people this faded picture or incorrect picture of your life and people are like you’re cooking all the time, and I’m like I may cook more than most but it is not an everyday thing,” revealing that she may cook a solid three or four days out the week. What does she do on the days that she does not feel like cooking? Either eat leftovers, grab food from a local restaurant, or settle for a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
It is the relatability factor that draws people to follow her, and of course her mouthwatering photos shared online. The recipes shared on her blog allow for anyone to easily follow to create in the kitchen like a chef. Her advice for those looking to cook more is “You just have to go for it. You just have to do it. You’re going to mess some stuff up. You’re going to burn some stuff. Some stuff you’re going to fix is going to be nasty. You just kind of got to learn from it and kind of go for it.” Berry notes that it is worthwhile to find good recipes from magazines or cookbooks, or even a blogger that you trust to get started. She advises people to not be terrified by recipes and the myth that good cooks do not use recipes, she mentioned they do, however they just put their own spin on dishes, something that you are able to do as well. If you wanted to take it a step further, Erique believes it is a good idea to look at online reviews of the recipes you find, because other folks may have slightly altered the recipes in a way that is aligned with your preferences.
As far as her next steps, she will continue to create content, which for her includes sharing tempting food pictures and recipes on her blog and social media channels. Erique plans to continue working full-time and staying connected to the math field as it was her undergraduate major, sharing “math education in the black community, I feel like STEM in itself, them all together, opens doors for our community that people have tried to shut and it kind of, you know, it’s still a fight but it kind of helps fight against some of these things that plague us a lot of times as far as unemployment and quality healthcare.” In addition, she will still be sharpening up her writing skills by serving as a contributing writer to QCityMetro, Charlotte’s digital only news outlet which was created to serve its local black audience. Now that her blog has launched, it includes a section to Strategize with Erique, where she plans to support small businesses, especially food businesses, as they work to navigate social media and marketing. There is a divide that she noticed regarding black food businesses that have decent foot traffic through word of mouth, but are not maximizing their potential because some of their brands do not appear to have a targeted social media marketing strategy.
While living out her truth, through reconnecting with former passions and pursuing new passions that scare her like writing, she is inspiring so many through the reminder that there is life after grief or while living with grief. In due time. It may take years, maybe even a decade, maybe more but eventually it is possible to love the things that you used to love, while making new memories. If you need to hear this today, remember to give yourself grace as you pursue your passions and to focus on the journey more than the destination.
You will get there when the time is right, but for now, have fun, grow and learn how to be the renewed version of you!
Check out these delicious recipes from Erique:
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