By Michael Sessa
Judah Carter receives a direct message on Instagram. It’s an order of jerk alfredo. With deliveries slated for the end of the week, he gets to work at the stove. He thinks back to the countless nights he spent in the doorway of his Brooklyn kitchen watching his mom cook as a kid. His mother, who owns her own catering company, wouldn’t let him inside. “I love to eat,” Carter says. “But my mom wouldn’t let me come in the kitchen. All I could do was watch.”
Ten years later, Carter and business partner, Andrea Heeraman, juniors studying sociology and child development respectively, operate what has become one of the most popular up-and-coming food delivery services at Syracuse.
Born out of a mutual passion for Caribbean cooking and a contempt for dining hall monotony, Carter and Heeraman decided to diversify the campus palette. Armed with an Instagram account and a South Campus apartment, the pair created For The Culture, the school’s first student-owned and operated source of Caribbean food.
“The dining hall food was terrible,” Carter says. “We were spending a lot of money on outside food. We were gaining weight. We thought we could provide something for the campus.”
With YouTube cooking tutorials and years of mental notes from those nights watching Carter’s mother at their disposal, Carter and Heeraman created an Instagram exclusive culinary business model. For The Culture posts a weekly flyer featuring upcoming meals and prices, and customers direct message the team to set up orders, payment and pick-up. Carter and Heeraman hand-deliver the food on foot or by bus.
“This food is an experience,” Carter says.
“Minority populations are very diverse on this campus, but they’re sometimes overshadowed by the school’s size,” Heeraman says. Spreading the culture, the cooks say, is the project’s ultimate goal.
The home-grown restaurateurs start their week off by shopping for ingredients. Heeraman takes the lead. “She’s definitely the more organized one,” Carter says. To keep For The Culture affordable for college students, much of the cooking hinges on cost-effectiveness. Carter and Heeraman use inexpensive store-bought basics to create their own spice blends, and they are always looking for fresh, in-season produce to incorporate into their recipes.
“I don’t think people expect food like this to come from a college apartment”
Aside from just offering students variety, part of For The Culture’s allure seems to be the element of surprise. “I don’t think people expect food like this to come from a college apartment,” Carter says. “To know we’re putting out good food is cool.”
Although they note that it’s hard to call one dish ‘the best,’ both Carter and Heeraman have their favorites. Heeraman’s go-to options include jerk alfredo—shrimp or chicken seasoned with a blend of ingredients such as chiles, thyme, cinnamon, garlic and nutmeg topped with a creamy sauce—and stew chicken. Carter is all about oxtails and macaroni pie—a sweet mac-and-cheese-esque casserole.
And while authentic Caribbean cooking is at the core of their mission, Carter and Heeraman aren’t afraid to push boundaries. Inspired by other chefs and recipes they’ve seen online, they’ve created Caribbean twists on dishes like the spring roll and are experimenting with an entirely new menu for spring 2019.
Running a takeout business isn’t always easy, though. There are some weeks where the stress of schoolwork and studying mean putting For The Culture on the backburner. And there are times where Heeraman’s parents aren’t so sure about their daughter’s ability to balance her own brand with her education. The founders of this college-town twist on Caribbean cooking acknowledge that, despite occasional criticism, they’ve built something any parent would be immensely proud of.
“If I’m working hard, they’re ‘gonna be proud of me no matter what,” Heeraman says.
“Just taste the food,” Carter adds smiling. “That’s it.”