Chef Chat, Part 1: Nicole Hudson of Conscious Cafe

A hand-painted sign delineates the entrance of Conscious Cafe, a Nation of Islam-run vegetarian hangout in the Third Ward. It's only been open for about a year, but the cafe already has devoted regulars.

Nicole Hudson is the co-owner and chef (not to mention a kickboxing teacher and personal trainer). But she still considers Conscious Cafe a community-owned restaurant.

EOW: Tell me how you started Conscious Cafe.

NH: I'm into health and fitness. I wanted to do a fitness center, that was the initial process. We're really big on healthy eating, and we came across the location here, and then I got the realization that I'm from this community, and there's nowhere that I can go and eat a healthy meal without going to another neighborhood -- River Oaks, Midtown, but not anywhere in my community.

So we decided to do a healthy eating cafe and make it vegetarian, but at the same time still offer some things that would kind of tickle our tongues. We don't have anybody that teaches "you shouldn't eat this, you shouldn't eat that." So we wanted to do that here in the community and give people the opportunity to not eat fried foods. You can have good, tasteful, wholesome foods, and it will be good for you.

EOW: Did you have any restaurant experience before this?

NH: No, not at all...they teach us how we should cook and what we should eat at the mosque. I learned how to make good bean soup and things like that. We have cooking classes and everything, so I already had a feel for cooking. I grew up cooking with my mom. I didn't always eat the healthiest things, but I knew how to flavor my food -- just didn't know the proper things to flavor it with. The ingredients is the love!

EOW: What's the story with your menu?

NH: I came up with the menu myself. I wanted to foods that I could prepare fresh, made to order that would be quick at the same time. It's vegetarian. I wasn't a very big fish eater because sometimes it would be too strong, so I had to come up with ways to make the salmon to where I enjoyed it. Then another one of the sisters in the mosque told me about the avocado sandwich. And honestly, I had never tried an avocado sandwich. She told me how to make it, and I fell in love with it.

I wanted to give several options of veggie sandwiches, but have it seasoned to the point to where you could really taste it as something different. It's something other people aren't offering.

EOW: Any new additions?

NH: We have new things that are going to start coming on the menu soon. We're going to do pizzas, we have a special barbecued salmon pizza we're going to be coming out with. We're going to also put salad on the menu. I'm going up with some different recipes to make my own salad dressing.

Tune in tomorrow to learn the secret to Hudson's six-pack abs, and to hear how Hudson battles stereotypes from behind the counter.

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