In his hometown of San Fernando, Trinidad, in the Caribbean, Osei Blackett spent most of his childhood in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. Whether it was shelling peas for pelau, a traditional dish of meat, peas and coconut milk, grating cheese for macaroni pie or chopping vegetables, Blackett loved being in the kitchen. He likes to say he comes from a “family of cooks.” Both of his grandparents on his mother’s side were bakers, and other relatives owned catering businesses.
In 2004, then 19-year-old Blackett immigrated to Brooklyn in hopes of a better life. He lived with his cousins, who mostly ordered take out and rarely cooked. Tired of all the fast food he was consuming, Blackett began cooking the recipes that he had committed to memory. He was studying business at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, when he learned about a tourism and hospitality program. He immediately switched his concentration. The program solidified his dreams of working in the food industry, but it wasn’t until he agreed to cater a party for hundreds of people — with no prior experience — that he decided it was time to start his own business.
“My cousins would promote parties. I would be cooking at home when they had meetings with DJs and collaborators. One time one of them asked, ‘Will you be able to cook for my event?’ and I said yes,” Blackett says. “At that time I didn’t know how to price or scale [the food] for 200 or 300 people. I said yes even though I wasn’t making money — it was fun. That’s when I decided to take it seriously.”
Blackett launched Picky Eaters Catering in 2007, where he would serve Trinidadian food like fruit chow, a popular fruit salad made with seasonal Caribbean fruits such as ripe mangos, papaya and pineapple. Three years later, he decided to open up his own restaurant in Flatbush, Brooklyn, also called Picky Eaters.
“It was a little scary,” Blackett says of going out on his own. “But I had dope business partners who had a good understanding about business. I used my connections when I was catering. My cousins had their parties so we would hand out flyers at parties about the restaurant.”
Picky Eaters has become a popular neighborhood spot. While it’s not traditional Trinidadian cuisine, the menu is inspired by Trinidadian street food. It’s perfect for those who want to taste the flavors of Trinidad but not its traditional foods. Blackett loves traveling and wherever he goes, be it England, Colombia or France, he tries to bring some of favorite elements of their cuisine to Picky Eaters.
“When I went to Nice in France, I loved their mussels, they had some of the best mussels I’ve ever had. I thought ‘how can I have Trinidadian and Caribbean people enjoy this?’” he says. “So I made coconut mussels and coconut curry mussels.”
The most popular dish at Picky Eaters is the barbecue lamb fries, cooked lamb ribs drenched in Blackett’s special barbecue sauce, served over seasoned French fries. Customers also enjoy dishes like macaroni pie (an original family recipe), jerk chicken gyros and fried fish sandwiches.
Like many New York City restaurants, Picky Eaters struggled throughout the pandemic. It was one of the many small restaurants that did not receive money from the Restaurant Revitalization fund or PPP loans.
“We definitely were struggling, we didn’t get any loans. We tried everything. We applied to everything,” Blackett says.
Picky Eaters managed to stay afloat, but it was challenging. The restaurant was closed and it sold set meals rather than offering their full traditional take-out menu.
“The pandemic hit hard. Everyone was shocked,” Blackett says. “We were closed to the public, we were not doing Uber Eats or take out. We were only doing catered meals. We sold hundreds of meals every weekend. That’s how we got through the pandemic financially.”
The restaurant reopened for business in summer 2021 — more than a year after the pandemic started. They are slowly regaining their strength. Blackett will be opening Picky Eaters’ second location at the Flatbush Central Market in early July. And in September, Blackett will be launching another restaurant focused entirely on traditional and authentic Trinidadian cuisine.
“Picky Eaters has some of the best food in Brooklyn,” Blackett says . “Come check us out!”