A Chat with Chef Nicole Ray
Some come for the mouth-watering egg sandwiches. Others prefer the perfectly fluffy pancakes. Still others are content to scoop up some oatmeal. But while Riverdale students might disagree about the best-tasting options at breakfast, we are united in one sentiment: Chef Nicole Ray is awesome.
Known as much for her easy laugh as she is for her culinary creations, Nicole has been serving up cafeteria classics and good conversation since May 2014. In that short period of time, students have become well acquainted with her many virtues. But there’s also much we don’t know about her – which is why I invited her to sit down and chat the other day about her life both inside and outside of Riverdale.
As a self-identified “’70s baby,” Nicole came of age in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where she quickly developed the two passions that sustain her to this day – music and reading. Unfortunately, finding a job about which she could feel passionate proved more difficult. As an adult, she worked many that she found unappealing. “They were boring,” she told me. “They weren’t going [anywhere].”
Happily, it turns out that her experience at Riverdale has been as gratifying for her as it has been for us. When she first arrived on campus, she was shocked by the contrast between the environment here and that of her previous workplaces. “My first month here, everyone just embraced me,” she remembered. “In other fields that I’ve worked in, there’s nothing like what I have here in Riverdale.” It was the warmth of the community that really resonated with her, and praises the community for its “communication, … love, … [and] laughter.” She admitted that the community could get raucous at times, but said she didn’t mind. “You’re just a bunch of loud children. [But] I’m loud, too,” she chuckled. “It just balances itself out.”
Like many of us, Nicole has come to see the school as a refuge of sorts, a safe space – a place of positivity in an increasingly uncertain world. “Reality is – there’s a lot of mean people out there. People do things to other people, and it hurts,” she said. “It gives you comfort to know that at least in here, we’re building up people to help change the world. It may be a small change, but that change is happening because of what is being taught in the Riverdale community.”
If she could deliver one message to Riverdale students, I asked, what would it be?
Her answer was immediate. “Never give up your dreams,” she said. “Never. Because I did.” She’d hoped to become a lawyer, she revealed, but had let those plans fall by the wayside. And while she said she doesn’t regret where she’s landed, she wanted Riverdale students to know they should pursue their most cherished goal – whatever it may be.
In fact, Nicole herself is now pursuing a new goal: writing her own book. And when she’s not scribbling thoughts on a page, she can be found reading her favorite author, James Patterson, listening to her favorite artist, the Notorious B.I.G, or whipping up great dishes for her students.
Of course, I saved the most important question for last: which of those dishes is her favorite? What’s the best option on the Riverdale menu? “I don’t have a favorite meal, ‘cause I’m just greedy,” she laughed. “I love food.”