Laney Culinary grad continues to serve a piece of West Indies culture through COVID pandemic

Coco Breeze in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 16, 2020.

November 17, 2020

By Hersh Singh, Staff Writer

Photos by Christy Price, Photo Editor

On the corner of High Street and Fairfax Avenue in East Oakland lies a hidden gem for Caribbean food and foodies alike. Chef Annabelle Goodridge, who readers might recognize from her restaurant La Belles on Adeline Street in Berkeley, has revitalized her culinary dreams in tandem with her daughter Merissa Lyons. 

On the morning of September 16th, as Goodridge and Lyons arrived at Coco Breeze to open up for the day, neighboring store owners came over to help. “All of these stores here in this row, we all help each other in any way we can, we call ourselves the high unity community,” said Goodridge. “Melvin runs the barbershop next door and Robert has the People Store which specializes in health and wellness products,” Lyons said.

Melvin Lawrence (left) and Robert Martins (right) from the Blacksheep Barbershop and The People Store operate businesses next door to Coco Breeze.

Due to COVID-19 regulations, Coco Breeze currently offers outdoor seating three days a week (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) from 11 in the morning to 8 at night. “On the weekends we usually get very busy, as soon as we open till around 2-2:30 p.m., and then it picks up again after that till 8 p.m.,” said Lyons. 

Goodridge is no stranger to cooking in mass volume. She is a Laney Culinary Arts graduate and attended catering school in her home country of Trinidad and Tobago. Goodridge has been catering for as long as she can remember.

“My mother sent me to catering school in Trinidad, and then once I came to the US, I was working as a nurse till the evenings and would attend my culinary classes at Laney at night,” she explained.

There was a definite spark in Goodridge’s eye when asked about her time at Laney. “My culinary instructors were so helpful. I was a single mother, and after my nursing shift, I would have to drop the kids off and then attend class. They were very understanding of my situation and showed me what it takes to open two restaurants in my life.” 

Goodridge in action, giving some love to the curry goat at Coco Breeze in Oakland, Calif, on Sept. 16. 2020.

Upon graduating from Laney Culinary Arts, Goodridge opened La Belles on Adeline Street in Berkeley. “La Belles was my baby, just like Merissa, but Coco Breeze is hers,” Goodridge said, proudly motioning to her daughter. “My daughter is the one who gave me the drive to come back and do Coco Breeze. All the interior, the sourcing of produce, dealing with the business, it is all Merissa’s work.”

Lyons runs her own business inside of Coco Breeze called Enchanted Eats. Merissa’s vision is to make enhanced staple products that you can easily integrate into your daily diet to absorb vitamins and minerals from superfoods. “Eat to live, don’t live to eat. That’s what I try to do with my cooking: create yummy and healthy baked goods as well as drinks,” said Lyons. 

Lyons demonstrated making her blue matcha tea lemonade. The blue matcha tea is frozen into ice cubes, and due to the acidic nature of the lemonade, when added, it changes the yellow lemonade to a gorgeous deep purple. After trying it first hand, it is hard to believe that there are no added sugars to the drink at all, yet it is naturally sweet, light and refreshing.

Meanwhile, prepping for the day takes all the attention Goodridge has to give. She begins by battering and frying plantains and then dipping them in a sweet sugary syrup. While the plantains turn to a golden brown, she reaches for a tray of generously stuffed Caribbean beef patties to put in the oven. Chef Ann then uses the same oil to make deep-fried balls of chickpea flour called phoulories served with a tangy and sweet tamarind dip. Trinidad and Tobago’s cuisine is a mix of West African, Creole and southeast Asian flavors.

After all the frying and baking has been taken care of, Goodridge removes the cover off of a huge pot to reveal the most aromatic chickpea and curry goat you can imagine.

This curry goat is not just eaten simply with rice. The curry goat with chickpea is laid down on a soft roti stuffed with yellow lentils. The curry is then wrapped using the lentil stuffed roti in order to package all that flavor inside. As a finishing touch, “I love using orchids to garnish, and they’re edible!” Goodridge explained. 

In the midst of all this, suddenly a little girl popped out from the back door. Lyons’ daughter, age 7, also displays a passion for cooking. “She loves it here, and loves spending time with her grandma too,” said Lyons.

Coco Breeze usually does most of its business on the weekends, specifically takeout and large orders for families who cater Goodridge’s delicious Caribbean foods. Upon entering the resturaunt, its bright orange and blue color scheme stands out, which Goodridge explained is a tribute to Trinidad and Tobago. Although there is no indoor seating, customers waiting for their order no doubt spend that time looking at the walls and absorbing so much about this mother-daughter duo and their heritage. The walls are decked with photos of beaches in Trinidad, beautiful moments from the Indigenous festival Carnival, as well as flags and the country’s coat of arms.

Chef Annabelle Goodridge explains her vision of Coco Breeze in Oakland, Calif, on Sept. 16. 2020.

“Together we aspire, together we achieve,” Goodridge read aloud proudly.

Customers surely leave Coco Breeze with a warm heart, huge smile and a full stomach. In times like this, Goodridge and Lyons’ story reflects hard work, unity and love. As Goodridge said her goal has always been to serve her community.

“This is the spirit of Trinidad, and my mother and I try to bring that to our community here in Oakland,” said Lyons.