Framingham's restaurant to offer healthy, global cuisine.
Looking back through her family tree, Laurette Ndukwe believes food played a major role in the longevity of her Haitian ancestors.
Her great-grandfather, a hat maker, kept working even after his 100th birthday. Ndukwe says he lived on natural foods such as beans and hearty sweet potatoes, cooked lightly to preserve their nutrients.
At the same time, diabetes is common in Ndukwe’s family, and after giving birth to her second child, doctors cautioned her that she had developed warning signs for the disease.
Ndukwe, who came to Massachusetts at age 13, said she began to reassess her diet, studying the healthiest ingredients and cooking methods.
Ndukwe will bring her conviction for healthy eating to a new restaurant opening in Framingham later this year. Nzuko, her new eatery, is slated to open in October in the commercial plaza at 341 Cochituate Road.
Ndukwe said she hopes to share her newfound passion for nutrition with customers.
“Framingham is beautiful in the sense that I think people are down to earth,” she said. “People are real, and I think it’s a chance (to) talk about food and what we have in common.”
After relocating to the United States, Ndukwe didn’t immediately gravitate toward cooking. She studied psychology at Simmons College and entered the field of social work, focusing on helping women and children in need.
Ndukwe has continued that work with an organization she founded 24 years ago to support and empower women in Greater Boston. She also runs a church in Wellesley with her husband under the name Stepping Stones Global Ministries.
While living in Boston and its environs, Ndukwe did eventually find her way into the restaurant world, taking over a South End eatery and converting it to L’Afrique, which served cuisine from Haiti and West Africa.
Ndukwe eventually gave up the business to raise her three children, resettling in Lincoln and living there for a number of years before moving to Wayland, where she now resides.
While raising her family, Ndukwe said she started investigating nutrition and how it influences health. She also learned more about global cuisine from friends, and from travels to Israel and Greece, where she was exposed to new foods and spices.
In her new venture, Ndukwe plans to offer a collection of delicious and healthy recipes sourced from around the world. In that spirit, she named the business Nzuko, which translates to “gathering” in both Japanese and Nigerian, she said.
To help spur new relationships with her customers, Ndukwe said her restaurant will have a long “friendship” table, where patrons will be invited to break bread with strangers. Customers can expect salads and sandwiches, as well as some traditional Haitian dishes, such as rice and beans, chicken with red sauce and fried plantains, and other dishes from around the world.
The restaurant will also emphasize the importance of fresh, seasonal ingredients — a message Ndukwe hopes to underscore by inviting a nutritionist to speak once a month.
With her business situated in a busy shopping area near the Natick border, Ndukwe said she hopes to position Nzuko as an alternative to the abundant chain restaurants in the area. She also hopes to draw together the town’s diverse international population.
“I think we have more in common than we think,” she said. “We’re sharing the same air. We’re sharing the same food.”
Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin.