Credit: Malene Younglau

My name is Malene Younglao. Yes, while it might seem an odd name for a Black woman, it is quite common in my country, a place where little Brown girls have names as a reflection of the history, culture and racial diversity of its citizens—the beautiful islands of Trinidad and Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago is a place known for its social vibrancy and rich culinary traditions. Through my family, Trinidad and Tobago is where I fell in love with food, wine and culture. My father’s adventurous palate taught me to try everything. My mother’s love for entertaining and presentation taught me the nuances of hospitality. My paternal grandmother, Commoy Laichoy, and my maternal great grandmother, Margret Villareal, both master chefs and gardeners in their own right, taught me everything from mixing soil to drying cacao. This love is my birthright. This is my inheritance.

In the winter of 1990, at 11 years old, my family and I migrated to East Flatbush, Brooklyn, into my maternal grandparents’ house, our version of Ellis Island. In our four-family home there was always something centered around food happening: Aunty Sybil grinding split peas for roti skins or Grandma Merle busting coconuts at the side of the house for callaloo. It seemed like we were neverendingly preparing for a party and I was always eager to help.

I might have been little, but I was included in all of the adult talks about varying levels of scotch whiskey, fermentation techniques for making fruit wine, the importance of silence during bread baking and how to make “browning” for stews. I now realize I come from a tribe of culinary experts and, unbeknownst to them and to me, they were developing my palate, nurturing my spirit and my passion all the while.

While my formative years in the Caribbean and in East Flatbush planted seeds for what would become my career today, they would not grow for more than a decade. After being on the road as a rock musician of Afropunk fame, I became a mom and decided to make a career switch to give my son a stable home with a present and grounded mother, something my music career would not provide. It was then I started to water and fertilize those squirreled-away seeds of my youth.

Thirteen years later my seeds began to sprout into a career with all of these necessary lessons. From being a line cook, I know the pressure of working in hot, fast-paced kitchens. From being a farmer and horticulturist, I know the challenges of owning a small farm struggling to meet margins. From being a food and beverage professional familiar with intensive 60-hour weeks, I know what it takes to open and run a restaurant. I now add sommelier and budding winemaker to that list and I am excited to do so.

Mission accomplished! My son, Dasez Ade, has a present and happy mother who continues to follow her passion. Through this new opportunity at AmNewsFOOD, I will share my curiosity for food, wine and hospitality while honoring the excellence of my ancestors’ traditions.

Are you or someone you know a food/beverage/hospitality expert and want to join our team of staff writers? Reach out, as AmNewsFOOD continues to expand the team!

Malene Younglao is a Trinidadian American food and wine professional. She is a mother, farmer, horticulturist, sommelier and aspiring winemaker. Visit her at www.myounglao.com, @MYounglao on Instagram and Twitter, Hand Over Feast on Youtube.

Questions, comments, requests, feedback, invitations! Email us at AmNewsFOOD@SCHOPnyc.com. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @NYAmNewsFOOD; Kysha Harris, @SCHOPnyc, Food Editor