In most marriages, the hope is that two people come together to create something bigger than their separate selves. For Shaka and Caron Garel, longtime Chefs Brigade partners, that is definitely the case although the result differs from what most people would expect.
It’s Afrodisiac, a fusion restaurant that celebrates Shaka’s Jamaican culture and Caron’s knowledge of Creole and Cajun cuisine, producing a menu of tantalizing flavors and dishes like curry shrimp stew with fried catfish, and jerk barbeque shrimp. The Gentilly restaurant features bright colors, greens and blues, on the walls that are adorned with local artwork, and canary yellow table cloths. Once inside, visitors catch the slow cooking aromas, and feel the calm, laid back, neighborly and friendly attitude about the place.
Getting here, however, was anything but calm and laid back for the Garels. The couple enjoyed cooking for friends at parties and occasionally selling plate lunches, so in 2017 they bought a $1200 delivery van, outfitted it and the Afrodisiac food truck was born just as Shaka, a first generation Jamaican-American, was laid off from his job. The business’s first day was Endymion Saturday, and the truck was situated on parade-packed Canal and Carrollton.
“It was going well,” Shaka says. “But the generator broke and this guy came through the crowd and fixed it.”
For the next few years, the truck was making regular stops in New Orleans, but business had slowed by the beginning of 2020 and then the COVID pandemic shut everything down. Collaborating with Revolution Foods, Chefs Brigade partner on the City of New Orleans COVID Meal Assistance program, the Afrodisiac truck began feeding people without homes at the St. Jude Community Center.
Not much later, Afrodisiac joined Chefs Brigade and became part of the meal assistance program that fed thousands of New Orleanians during the pandemic. In October 2020, the couple suffered a setback when their truck was crumpled by a tree when Hurricane Zeta hit the city. But the mishap became an opportunity as people began sending money through a crowdsourcing fund, and combined with the steady income from Chefs Brigade, Shaka and Caron were able to take the next step in Afrodisiac’s evolution.
“We were able to save money and between [Chefs Brigade income] and the tree falling on the truck,” says Caron. “It allowed us to open a bricks and mortar restaurant. I can’t imagine getting here without it.”
Caron began developing a fuller menu in the kitchen, bringing to life dishes like oxtail stew and Rasta Pasta. With a bar in the back of the restaurant, they also created signature cocktails including the Guava Rita that uses pineapple syrup and guava as a sweetener. Afrodisiac debuted in March and has become a favorite for Gentilly neighbors and foodies.
Proud brigadiers, the couple have kept up with Chefs Brigade and want to take Chefs on Boats tour to learn more about the Gulf of Mexico and where Louisiana’s bountiful seafood harvest comes from. It’s already been a long road for Shaka and Caron, but they are looking forward to theirs and the restaurant’s future.
“Business is good and it’s getting better,” says Shaka.