Interview with Kreyol Korner

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Kreyol Korner was such a foreign treat that even though I knew the ingredients it felt like I had never tasted them before. We had the most delicious ear time with the owner, Nahika Hillery.

Ainsley: So, what is your background?

Kreyol Korner: So, um. I actually have no background in culinary. I’m actually coming from a medical background. I used to work at a research lab where we would use cadavers and we would dismember their body parts and then create like, mock OR rooms for the surgeons so they can practice implanting the new devices before they hit the market.

Jason: Holy Cow!

Ainsley: Almost looking at a funeral home but like, an artistic funeral home is what this sounds like to me.

KK: (Laughs) So, families, they sign up to donate their bodies ahead of time of course or whenever their, ah, family member passes away.

Ainsley: Yeah, for science!

KK: Not at all, it’s still a passion of mine. I love cooking, like I still love pathology. I still listen to podcasts of natural medicine and everything just to kind of stay like, up to date with what’s going on. But yeah, I mean… No I don’t feel like I’m losing anything.

KK: So yeah, they donate their body to our lab and that’s when we also distribute the body parts to different Universities that are doing research as well but we also hold research at our lab.

Ainsley: Ok, weird question. Do people ever ask for like a hand or something?

KK: They do! Absolutely, yeah. When they’re studying arthritis or if they’re trying to come up with new medications for any sort of joint dysfunction.

Ainsley: Oh, I meant the family, do they ever just want something? Like a hand or something to turn to ash?

KK: Oh no, it is all or nothing at our lab. Yeah, So um, at a transplant bank they’ll only take the organs but we’re not a transplant bank so we take the whole body.

Ainsley: That’s so fascinating. So do you put science into food? Do you feel like, those two came together?

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Ainsley: I know! It’s like everyone in America seems to be on some type of drug. It’s like ‘let me take my morning brain medication.’

KK: So what’s so funny is that I got into that field, studied biology, worked at that lab for three years and I applied to grad school in Canada to go study pathology.

Ainsley: What is pathology?

KK: Pathology is the study of disease. So um, I did an internship in China for five months working as a medical intern in the alternative medicine department. So I learned about natural medicine which then beats my interest to study pathology to understand the correlation between food and disease and um, basically how we can come up with treatments without using prescribed medication.

Ainsley: So mostly herbal based or not to put bad food in your body?

KK: Well, it’s not that I’m totally against, you know, prescription drugs. I feel like they do assist with whatever the treatment is but I feel like we’re relying on it too much on not relying on our bodies.

Ainsley: I know! It’s like everyone in America seems to be on some type of drug. It’s like ‘let me take my morning brain medication.’

(laughter)

KK: Right.

Ainsley: Yeah.

KK: So that was like, where my heart was at and what ended up happening is my husband wanted to move to Texas and I knew nothing about Texas before I came here. I literally- like when I say nothing I mean I made such nerd comments like- you know? Riding a horse to work?

Ainsley: Riding cowboys?

KK: Exactly!

(Laughs)

KK: It’s been great. I did a lot of market research before opening. I rented out like, two tables for two days during SXSW last year.

KK: So… Anyway, he took me here to visit. We initially went to Dallas first because that’s where he wanted to move and a lot of people encouraged us to move to Austin because we were like, a young couple, so we ended up moving to Austin, I fell in love with it. Um, But they didn’t have the research lab I worked at before and they also did not offer the Pathology program that I wanted to pull for.

Ainsley: Uh huh.

KK: So, um, I ended up getting into education and I was teaching um, anatomy and physiology and AP biology and then-

Jason: Where at?

KK: At Harmony.

Jason: Harmony?

KK: Harmony school of political science. And then I ended up getting promoted to an assistant student and then while I was doing that we entertained at our house and a lot of our Austin friends have never had Haitian food before.

Ainsley: Like with a huge back yard kind of thing?

KK: Yeah, so we constantly had friends over and I’m constantly cooking and-

Ainsley: And they’re like “We love you! Please open a food truck!”

KK: (Laughs) Yeah! And they really love the food and that’s really how it started.

Ainsley: So have you been received really well? How’s the community treated you?

KK: It’s been great. I did a lot of market research before opening. I rented out like, two tables for two days during SXSW last year.

Jason: Mmm Hmm

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KK: Of course I love everything on the menu but I would say my favorite is definitely the fried pork shoulder which is our staple. It’s because of how we prepare our meat. When it comes to our meat, Haitians are very particular about taste. I also call them the hardest critics because they’re so particular about taste so when I’m cooking I have to- the taste has to be perfect before I serve it because I know the Haitian community no matter where they are-

KK: And um, yeah. I gave out all the food for free. And little sample bowls of like, our rice and with pork shoulder, meatballs, our pink potato salad and everyone loved it, like, we just got such positive feedback. So from that tasting we did several others like, for our vegetarian option.

So I was just like you know, is this what people are really looking for? And I just got such positive feedback and I just went for it and I went for it. So I did a food truck crash course. I attended- I signed up for all the food truck facebook groups and all the entrepreneur workshops here.

Ainsley: You dedicated yourself, that’s awesome! So, now being a chef though, how do you find how to be consistent with the food and banging it out with long lines?

KK: Practice. It’s just been practice, honestly. We’ve always- even growing up we’ve always thrown really big parties at our house; My dad was in like, this political group when I was younger so every Thursday we’d have this huge group of people come over and they would do like, a meeting and my Mom and I would be in the kitchen cooking and preparing food.

Ainsley: Ok, so what is your favorite things? Or do you love everything on the menu?

KK: Of course I love everything on the menu but I would say my favorite is definitely the fried pork shoulder which is our staple. It’s because of how we prepare our meat. When it comes to our meat, Haitians are very particular about taste. I also call them the hardest critics because they’re so particular about taste so when I’m cooking I have to- the taste has to be perfect before I serve it because I know the Haitian community no matter where they are-

Ainsley: Like in your subconscious?

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KK: Oh, absolutely! Yes. But the pork shoulder is definitely our staple and we have- you know, like, we have our own way we clean our meat and then you know, we marinate it overnight and we leave it overnight and then after we even broil it we also leave it in the broth overnight so it’s super tender by the time we fry it.

Ainsley: How do you marinate it?

KK: So we make a flavor base. It’s called Epis. We use all organic ingredients, we use red peppers, green peppers, onions, garlic, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and we use cloves, parsley, cilantro and then some of our seasonings and then we blend it and it’s used for pretty much everything across that we make across the board.

Ainsley: So do you ever use fresh cloves?

KK: Oh yeah. We use fresh cloves, yeah.

Ainsley: How long have you guys been open so far?

KK: We’ve been open since July but we’ve bee a catering business since May.

Ainsley: So where do you guys see yourself going from here?

KK: Well, I for one would first like to get a bigger truck (laughs) A trailer I should say. Um, just so I can have a full kitchen. Um, so the reason, like- for example we offer the mac n’ cheese every other week is because we need an oven and I don’t have an oven here but it would be nice to have a bigger trailer and a full kitchen but I would like to franchise. I’m looking to open one in San Antonio and also Dallas so that would be a long term project but I’m not interested in a brick and mortar. I really want to stay food truck and like-

Ainsley: Stay portable?

KK: And stay portable too because I like to be at the festivals and events and everything.

Ainsley: I got to admit, you are one of the happiest business owners I’ve seen in a while.

KK: Really? (Laughs)

Ainsley: Yeah. You’re just like- it’s like none of it’s really getting to you, that’s great.

KK: No, it’s not. I worked from such an intense job- like all my- honestly, so the lab I worked at I mean I was working sixty-five hours a week. I was working like, fifteen hour days. So this is nothing compared to- you know?

Ainsley: Do you ever feel like you’ve not wasted all that time in research?

KK: Not at all, it’s still a passion of mine. I love cooking, like I still love pathology. I still listen to podcasts of natural medicine and everything just to kind of stay like, up to date with what’s going on. But yeah, I mean… No I don’t feel like I’m losing anything.

Ainsley: Great. That’s really great. Is there any last thing you want to say?

KK: Ummm, Well, I mean, the purpose of opening up the food truck in the first place was to promote and highlight, um, the Haitian culture which is the cuisine because, um, in the media there is such a bad misrepresentation, of- in Haiti it’s always just about poverty or you know, natural disasters happening there and I’m like “Does anyone know the kind of rich culture that we have?” So, I mean from the music to the art on the truck and to keep the dishes authentic I really wanted to bring Haitian food here to promote another side of our culture that people don’t get to see.

Ainsley: I love that. I kind of want to high five you right now.

Ainsley: Do you play music?

KK: I do, I’m about to turn it on. Thank you guys so much!

Ainsley and Jason: Thank you, it’s so nice to meet you.

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