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Interview: Model, Ballet Dancer (and Serious Home Cook) Nardia Boodoo

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A woman of many talents, both onstage and in the kitchen.

nardia boodoo in kitchen
Photo by Rachard Wolf

“Ok. This lady has some serious cooking chops,” I thought.

Nardia had just answered “My Le Creuset,” when asked, “What can’t you be quarantined without?” for an Instagram post about her by The Washington Ballet’s Jeté Society. Other dancers had answered about their cats, video games, and fitness gear. But Nardia went straight for heavy duty cast-iron cookware.

Professional ballet dancer Nardia Boodoo did not start studying ballet seriously until age 14 — a late age for anyone seriously pursuing ballet. But through very hard work, natural gifts, and strong determination, Nardia made it to the professional ballet world.

The Baltimore native and dancer with the The Washington Ballet also has a serious love of cooking, rooted in family tradition. Her dad is a professional chef from Trinidad, and introduced her to the fresh and spicy flavors of Trini cooking, a Caribbean cuisine steeped in influences from Africa, India, Central and South America, and even Europe. 

Nardia’s love of cooking started as a child, when her parents tested her readiness with basics like ramen and eggs. These days, she is braising short ribs and whipping up eight-hour bolognese. Nardia and I talked food, ballet, what dancers eat, life in Covid self-isolation, and more.

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nardia boodoo headshot
Photo by Nisian Hughes

Unpeeled’s Interview With Model and Ballet Dancer Nardia Boodoo

This interview took place on April 22, 2020. This article has been lightly edited and condensed for space. 

 Lisa Ruland [LR]: I have read a lot about your dance background from your profile in The Washington Post. But tell me a little about your cooking background. How did you start cooking? 

Nardia Boodoo [NB]: I’ve always liked to cook. I grew up watching my dad cook. He was a chef. I can’t remember what age specifically — maybe age 3 or 4? — being put on the high bar stool so I was at least at counter level, and watching and waiting until I was able to start doing something.

When I got closer to fourth or fifth grade, I was allowed to make ramen on the stove. It was kind of a test. If I could not mess up boiling water, then we could progress. Then it was eggs, or my parents asking me to do little things like chop onions.

It wasn’t actually until I moved out to Chicago for training and got a little homesick that I really started cooking. I started making this Trinidadian-style stewed chicken dish, something that my dad made all the time. And that’s actually pretty advanced. Trini food is a combination of Indian food with a little African influence and Latin influence as well. My family is Indian so I know a lot of Indian food. A lot of it is twists on those classic recipes.

LR: How do you define your cooking style now? 

NB: I started off with an advantage, growing up with a dad who was a chef familiar with the complexities of flavor. I think my favorite thing to make is braised short ribs with cheddar mashed potatoes. That’s my favorite. I also like to make this eight-hour bolognese recipe I came across somewhere. You essentially build flavor all day and that at the end, it’s bomb.

I did my first curried goat last week. It was good! I am always so intimidated by what we’d consider exotic meat, but it is really similar to lamb, so it wasn’t that hard. Plus, to get the authentic flavor, I had to make a green seasoning, which is a staple in Trinidad. Green seasoning is essentially cilantro, garlic, lime, thyme, and onion, and habanero pepper, and a little touch of vinegar and water if it’s too thick. It’s a staple. Everything you make in Trinidad gets touched with that.   

LR: I think there is a perception that dancers subsist on, like, cucumbers. But that’s not necessarily true. Dancers are athletes and fuel their bodies. So, what does a dancer really eat? What do you eat?

NB: Honestly, there are people in the ballet world who do have to diet because of the body type involved, but I think it’s better to work out. I am also not a happy person when I am hungry. It is very important for me to have fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean meat. I grew up basically on fish and chicken, and maybe goat sometimes. We never had steak because my dad is of Indian descent, and we never cooked pork. So it’s in my vernacular to have healthy food. And I don’t like boring food.

I don’t have energy to dance from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day if I am not feeding myself. What I put in is what I get out of it. So I like cooking. It helps me destress, I get to be creative, and I get to just do something good for myself. It’s self care. 

LR: What do you eat when you’re performing?

NB: My favorite thing to eat during a performance week is pasta, because carbs give you energy and you store that in your muscles longterm. It’s the perfect thing. I try to find various different pasta recipes and make them before the show. And I like a salad as well, especially with a creamy vinaigrette.  

During performance week, I tend to eat a lot more. Egg and avocado for breakfast in the morning, with an English muffin or ciabatta. Lunchtime gets a little weird because I need a little break. I need to leave the theater and see the sunshine for a little bit.  When we’re just rehearsing, I eat a lot less carbs. The weekends are when I whip out the chef’s hat and say, “Let’s go.”

LR: What is your day-to-day reality right now as a dancer in self-isolation?

NB: So, The Washington Ballet paused our season on March 13, and since then it has been such a weird experience. We were supposed to do Swan Lake, and now everything is cancelled. So I bought some Marley [dance floor] and a ballet barre, and I’ve been taking Zoom company class. But it’s weird because it’s in my kitchen and I’m staring at my sink. It’s not that inspiring, and a little painful dancing on such a hard floor.

[Artistic Director Julie Kent] teaches twice per week. Every Monday we have a Zoom chat with her, and she tries to keep us motivated and inspired. The Women’s Committee has a weekly pantry, so they send us a google form of what we want and they try to get it to us. The Washington Ballet has been a source of great help, and is doing everything they can. Members of the board have even offered to host dancers who are in extreme circumstances.

My pilates instructor is doing online class, and I’m also trying to do non-impact cardio. I’m doing what I can. It’s hard. It really is. I’m trying to stay abreast of my social media, which is also hard, because I usually get my agency (modeling agency Wilhelmina) gets me partnership with a lot of brands, but we can’t work with photographers or do any photo shoots, so it’s been hard to navigate. There’s never been a situation like this before, so it’s been hard, but I’m trying. We’re all in this together.

LR: Are you feeling like your body is not as in peak condition as it would otherwise be?

NB: Do you mean, am I out of shape? Absolutely! I haven’t done a grand allegro in weeks! I was actually starting to think about doing a jump program in the grass outside because it is soft and there’s room. I have a lot of energy.

LR: What are you cooking for dinner tonight?

NB: I am going to cook steak. I created a marinade: soy, Worcestershire sauce, some Italian herbs and garlic, and I’m going to make some macaroni and cheese. But I haven’t found the right recipe yet.

Ed. Note: Get Nardia’s family recipe for Trini Green Seasoning by clicking the photo below!

cilantro scallions ginger

6 comments

  • This is the second time I’ve made this green sauce. My friend is from trinidad and he loves it thank you for this delicious recipe!

    • Unpeeled

      Fantastic! I love it. It’s definitely become a staple for me.

  • Great interview!! Brava!!

  • What is grand allegro?

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Sophia! Good question. Grand allegro means the big jumps, leaps, and steps dancers do, usually across the floor. Thanks for writing.

  • What a nice interview. She is such a talented person!

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