Dakia’s working hard ‘Dae N’ Night’
When chef Dakia O'Brien decided to leave her full time job and open up her own catering company early this year, it proved to be a tough move at first.
“It wasn't always at the level it's now, but I saw the bigger picture and hung in there,” Ms O'Brien said. “I'm still hanging in there and working towards making Dae N' Night Catering better.”
These days the 27-year-old chef is known in certain circles as ‘the wing lady' and gradually building a foodie following thanks to word of mouth and social media.
But what's also helped in getting her name out to the wider public — is winning last week's City Food Festival Competition.
Ms O'Brien went up against several of the Island's best chefs in an exciting food competition organised by the City of Hamilton.
Funny thing is she didn't originally plan to even enter the contest — let alone win it.
It was only after a friend put her name forth to the organisers — that she was given the push she needed to take part.
“I wanted to say ‘no' because it wasn't something I was used to doing, but I figured at this point in the catering business I might as well give it a try,” she said.
“I started my business back in January of this year, so I'm just stepping out.”
Ms O'Brien has always had a passion for eating great food, but has only been cooking seriously for the past five years.
Several years ago she was on the track to study business at a college in Raleigh, North Carolina, but made the switch into culinary arts after having a tour of the Johnson & Wales University campus in Charlotte.
“I loved the campus so much that I dropped out of business college and went into the culinary arts,” she said. “I graduated from university in 2010. Since then I've done an internship with Greg's Steakhouse and went on to work at Port O'Call and Taste 141.”
While working at those restaurants she learned a lot about how to work in a busy kitchen, but also learned a lot about herself.
“I realised that even though I have worked in these great places, I personally like a bit more freedom when it comes to creativity and decided to open a business of my own,” she said.
In the first round of the culinary competition, Ms O'Brien had to make three canapés using ingredients like shrimp, pears, goat cheese and walnuts.
The complimentary ingredients made the task easy enough, but the real challenge came in the final round when chefs were asked to prepare canapés with salami, blue cheese, pecans and lump crabmeat.
“I was up against two other professional chefs, so I was a little bit nervous,” she explained. “Luckily I was content enough to get it done and do the best I could.
“I was happy to have made it that far, especially being the only Bermudian, the only female and being a small-business owner in the finals going up against renown chefs in Bermuda, it was just an honour.”
After being named the competition winner — and the recipient of a $500 cheque and other prizes — Ms O'Brien felt a whirlwind of emotions.
She was shocked, happy and emotional and said: “It was a really good feeling. I was very proud of myself and the business at that moment.”
In addition to catering for children's birthdays and other gatherings, Ms O'Brien offers lunch specials several days a week, including ‘Toss Salad Tuesdays' and ‘Wild Wing Wednesday'. She said what makes her stand out from other restaurants and catering companies is the different flavour combinations she comes up with.
“My clients are always looking forward to what different crazy and tasty flavours I'm going to create,” she said.
“On Tuesdays, I offer two main salads: curry chicken and mango and buffalo fish. But each week I come up with a few unique salads to surprise customers with. One was an Asian coleslaw with chicken marinated in Asian spices, pilled on a bed of lettuce and topped with tortilla strips.
“I'll post the menu options on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the day before, so people can place their orders and get them delivered for lunchtime the next day.”
Still, it's her ten flavours of chicken wings that are getting the most attention.
One called Tequila Sunrise has been popular with customers, as well as “a barbecue based sauce unlike any other” called Caribbean Breeze.
“I don't like to give away a lot when it comes to the sauces because we want people to taste it and have their taste buds in for a shock,” she said. “But we do have the more simple flavours like honey barbecue and lemon pepper.”
Ms O'Brien said her ultimate goal is to own her own kitchen space, so she can offer her dishes to people on a daily basis.
“Right now we don't have the platform and can only operate on certain days, but the demand is there so we are looking to expand.”
She also wants to start offering cooking lessons so that more and more people can tap into their hidden cooking abilities.
“A lot of people think that in order to cook some of the things that chefs do, they have to be qualified and over-the-top amazing, but they don't,” she said.
“Sometimes there are simple things that you can do that will result in something wonderful, but people just need to be taught the basic skills. That's my aim, to show that anyone can be a chef. It's just a matter of being creative.”
Dae N' Night Catering is on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; and also has a website: daennight.com.