PORT TOWNSEND — 2020 “brought out the warrior in me,” Grace Love told her listeners New Year’s Eve.
Then she gave an a cappella interpretation of a spiritual classic.
“I heard a voice/ telling me it’s gonna be all right/ that I knew my course
“Wade in the water/ wade in the water, soldier
“Wade in the water …”
With those words, Love finished her free online concert. She then put the past year into the past, placing her gaze, her voice and her cooking firmly in 2021.
Love, 34, is the Tacoma-born singer known around the Pacific Northwest for her soulful, molasses-sweet tone — and for her touch in the kitchen.
Since moving to Port Townsend, she’s dished up a lot of Southern-style cuisine inspired by the foods she enjoyed growing up. Love’s business, Nadine’s Kitchen, is named for her late mother.
This Monday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Love and her crew will do a pop-up event with an unusual twist. The pre-order price at Nadinessoulkitchen.com is $16 for either chicken gumbo with rice or vegetarian hoppin’ John with rice, but the window price is pay-what-you-can, or gratis if you just need a hot meal.
“No questions asked,” said Love, adding she knows what it’s like to be unable to afford supper.
“You’re hungry? Come up,” she said.
“I got you.”
Love’s location is Lila’s Kitchen, 887 E. Park Ave., in the cluster of takeout spots that have sprung up in recent months. She’s happy to be there for now, but “it’s pretty packed.” Love hopes to find her own space.
Nadine’s Kitchen has a crew of four and Love is looking to add one more; “I want to provide jobs for people,” while serving flavors not found anywhere nearby.
“I’m all about rarity, instead of oversaturation,” she said.
On a recent Wednesday, Love and her crew members Terra Hampton and Robin Enge finished cooking 170 lunches for the YMCA-Community Wellness Project’s weekly meal-delivery program.
Olympic Peninsula YMCA CEO Wendy Bart heaped praise on Love, adding she’d also prepared the program’s meals for summer and winter break.
“She is so amazing … she made eggplant parmigiana,” and dishes with local greens, Bart said. Not only did Love expand youngsters’ horizons with her cooking, but “she prepared that food with love. The families felt it.”
Jeanette Testu, owner of Uptown Port Townsend’s Seal Dog Coffee Bar, met Love there, and found a kindred spirit.
“She would come in for cookies when she was pregnant with Milo,” her now 17-month-old son.
Testu looked up Love’s music — her recordings are found on the Nadine’s Kitchen website — and found out she’s also a chef.
They started taking walks together, and when the pandemic arrived, Testu gave Love some of her sourdough starter.
Love’s Southern cooking is “revelatory,” Testu said. Tasting her tomato soup, “it was mind-blowing how different it was.”
Love brings a spirit and energy into the kitchen, added Testu, who works with the Nadine’s crew as a side job.
At the start of this month Testu joined Love in promoting her Soul Drop biscuit mix, launching a campaign to sell 1,000 bags along with a “Permanent Space for Nadine’s Kitchen” page on GoFundMe.com, both of which aim to raise money for that dreamt-of headquarters.
It could be a food truck, Testu said, or a rented kitchen-and-takeout shop.
“It’s going super well at Lila’s. But every food person wants a space of their own,” she added.
Even as Love works toward a more prosperous Nadine’s Kitchen, she hopes to produce another record this year: a follow-up to 2020’s “Singing in the Dark,” and this time it just might be country. Yes, she’s known for soul, but “I love country music. It’s just beautiful.”
She also wants to do two pop-ups every month. After Monday’s event, Love and crew will reconvene at Lila’s to serve Frito pie with soul chili, vegan or with meat, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 25.
Love said nothing has been easy for her as a Black entrepreneur. Yet she’s determined to honor her parents, both her mother and her late father, Aaron, and to provide for her son.
“The world is changing,” she said.
“I never knew how strong I was going to be.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.