72-year-old nutritionist opens restaurant to promote healthy eating

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Maria Nicholson, centre, at the launch of her restaurant Royal T Cafe in Buck Buck Alley, Canaan, on Thursday. – Photo by David Reid

Charlotteville native Maria Nicholson, 72, is opening a small restaurant to help Tobago eat natural and nutritious foods.

On Thursday, Nicholson launched Royal T Café, in Buck Buck Alley Canaan, aimed at providing affordable and nutritious meals.

Nicholson, who has a bachelor’s degree in food science from the Pratt Institute in New York, said the menu is for everyone.

She told Newsday that before she returned to TT in 2013 after living in the United States for several years, this business was still a dream.

“I was very concerned about the food lifestyle of Tobagonians, being a nutritionist.”

Tobagonians, she said, enjoy a lot of sauce in their food and don’t follow the basic food groups.

“This long series of rice and groceries and so much starch duplication – I want to do something different.

“I thought to myself, if you can’t beat them, you’re not going to join them, so see how you can help them. So I made myself known to religious groups, community groups and I did a lot of training in cooking classes.

“I’ve always been a professional caterer, so I said you know what, I’ll do business now that I’m retired – but I don’t want to join the gang.”

Having worked alongside several local and international chefs, she said providing catering services was a natural progression in her career.

“I never liked the restaurant business, but I decided to make a restaurant and this restaurant will teach what I preach.

“I’m going to make healthy food on a smaller and wider variety – I’m going to give smaller portions so by the time the plate is full it’s a healthy plate.”

She said the Royal T cafe would not only cater to the Caribbean palate.

“I’m going to do multicultural, multiethnic; this also includes Muslim and Jewish communities.

She hopes to provide training through this company.

“I want to teach and prove to Tobagonians that healthy eating habits are necessary with exercise – they go hand in hand, you can’t do one and not do the other and be successful.”

Nicholson said she’s not worried about other food businesses in western Tobago.

“My meals don’t compete with any of the food establishments – I don’t do the stews.”

On its buffet, there would be dishes such as oil, coo coo, callaloo, a range of pastas with Italian sauces, fish and various meats cooked in different styles.

“We have to combine certain foods with other foods so that they are very active, digested and effective in keeping our bodies healthy. Meals here are high in starches, not enough vegetables, not enough fruits, and we need those nutrients to be able to activate the hormones and organs that would act on the heavier food groups – proteins, starches and minerals.

She added, “You are what you eat.”

She said the intimate restaurant, which seats 24 people, will be open for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

Nicholson promised to support farmers by sourcing most of its ingredients locally.

Although launched on Thursday, the Royal T café will officially open at the end of July.

Nicholson said the delay was because she broke her leg during a recent visit to New York.

“I know people who have been there and died, but I’m alive and thanking God for the very breath he gave me.”

THA Community Development Secretary Terance Baynes praised Nicholson for the venture.

“From the THA’s perspective, we will continue to try to create the best environment for businesses to thrive. We would keep cheering because that’s how we could build the kind of Tobago we want to build.

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