As a child Rianna Allen looked on as her grandmother, Rita, cooked up scrumptious meals in their family kitchen. With every ingredient added to the food, Allen asked questions and waited with a sheepish grin for "ah taste". She knew then that food would always be an integral part of her life.
Today, the self-confessed "foodie" takes immense pride in having the tables turned, with Rita now watching her work as she prepares meals for her growing customer base. The 23-year-old is the proud founder, chef and caterer at Brussel's Tasty Dishes, out of Gulf View, San Fernando. Brussel's offers dinners, made to order and delivered to your door, as well as catering services for special events.
"My grandmother is my inspiration for food. I would always watch how happy she would be when people stopped off at our house and ate...their reaction to her food left her smiling even more than when she was cooking the meals. I felt then that this was what I would want to achieve as well, even if I was only cooking for just my own family. As far back as I could remember, she was always in the kitchen, baking or making a dish and I knew I was sometimes in her way, but I stuck around, close, looking on and asking questions," she recalled.
Allen comes from a huge family that loves food. When at age seven, her parents, Roger and Rhonda Allen, established a jerk wings business on Cipero Street, San Fernando, Allen's interests in food piqued even further.
She said she initially thought her dream job would be working with children. "I wanted to go into this field just because of how me and my big brother, Russell and sister, Regina, were brought up. My parents instilled so much love, humility, compassion and ambition in us, I felt like I wanted to share that with other children, whether my own or others. I knew too it's what they were themselves taught and I saw the great importance in passing on the baton and being a role model to and for others."
Allen pursued a diploma in the UK with which she intended to become a certified Early Years Child practitioner. Upon returning to TT in 2014 she attained a certificate in Human Resource Management from The University of The West Indies Open Campus.
Her love affair with food, though, saw her follow a different path.
She said her brother and deceased grandfather, Russell, were actually instrumental in the name choice of her business. Her brother had shared the idea of creating a franchise that provides brunches to the public. Still mourning the loss of the man considered "the pillar" of their family, Allen combined the word "brunches" with her grandfather's first name, and Brussel's was born.
Allen said her grandfather also taught her how to always be on the look out for opportunities, a principle she applied while at her job at a financial institution. "I actually started my business by randomly selling fruit bowls in the office... I then used the profits and invested in getting ingredients for my Alfredo pasta dish. One Friday night I made it and called most of my contacts and informed them of dinners being delivered to them. Most of my contacts, family and friends, knew I was a fanatic for food and didn’t hesitate. That night, I was sold out. From that night I made it a regular duty on a weekend. I wanted to provide people with gourmet food that you wouldn't dream you could get from a simple home kitchen. My talented brother assisted me with the graphic designs and he originally came up with the name for the business, while my dad helps with delivery and my sister is my go-to girl for when I need an extra hand in the kitchen. Clearly, it runs in the family," she joked.
Most days, Allen, who is both boss and employee, has had to her turn away business. Having celebrated her first anniversary on October 26, 2018, and with demands for dinners, ever increasing, Allen said she knows this will have to change.
Just as she utilised social media to build her brand and clientèle,she intends to do the same to attain the human resources she needs, when that time comes.
She recalled wanting to prove to her father that she too could succeed at a business in the food industry, even when he would have preferred she focus on academics. Allen said she tried, but her heart simply was not in it.
"Trying to balance my newly full-time job and university part-time was draining me. Then my cooking passion was placed on the back burner because my mind and heart was not in the same place. Eventually I was having issues with GATE and I eventually stopped. It hurt me really bad to think that I had disappointed my parents. That they had invested their time and money into seeing me graduate, just like them. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and I made a vow to make my parents proud and then I was founder of my very own dinner delivery service. I was determined to show my mom and dad, I didn’t need my degree to work for myself and I would make them proud regardless," she said.
Allen's mom, who lives in England, continues to be her biggest motivator, while her father goes beyond the call of duty for her business.
She said she has grown to admire Saudia Shuler from Pennsylvania, USA, who she follows on her Instagram cooking page. Shuler, she said, cooks from her heart and is determined to make a difference in her community.
Her advice to young people would be that they "not run with the trend".
"Rather seek to positively stand out and work hard even if some people tell you your dreams are unrealistic. I was never a ‘social butterfly’ but built the courage and encourage persons to try my dinners. I’m always stressing on young girls because often times we do the ‘most’ for acceptance and recognition when we are already beautiful accomplished, while finding our God-given talent."