The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Andre Springer is the founder of Shaquanda Will Feed You, a collection of hot-pepper sauces born out of Andre’s drag performance and alter ego. He welcomed us into his Brooklyn home to share his path to becoming an entrepreneur and his grandmother's chicken soup.
I grew up here in New York with my mom's family, who are from Barbados. A lot of my youth was split between my mom in Bed-Stuy and my grandmother in Far Rockaway, Queens. I've always found myself eating. Like, obsessively eating. I used to take the bacon out of the fridge and just eat it. My mom has pictures of me when I was probably 2 years old, just eating a whole onion.
My weekends with my grandmother were very special; she used to work in Barbados as a home cook or a personal cook. Breakfast in Barbados on the weekends is a very special thing because we have dishes that are specifically for the weekends, like cou-cou and flying fish and fish cakes, which are made with salted cod, scallions, hot peppers, flour, eggs, and souse — which is kind of like head cheese or a sausage stuffed with root vegetables. Cou-cou is like grits, made from cornmeal. It's a dish that kind of ties between the diaspora from the South into the Caribbean and into West Africa.
Breakfast in Barbados on the weekends is a very special thing.
My grandmother would place soft-boiled eggs in her crystal egg dish. She would always peel them halfway for me and my sister and then present it to us. We'd have our salts and our black pepper on the side, and some pepper sauce if we wanted it. That experience of just being able to put my seasonings onto it — instead of something that was fully prepared — I think, for me, is a memory of really first creating something.
She inspired my Caribbean grandma-style version of a chicken soup, with onions, celery, carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and plantains — and aromatic dumplings. I cooked the chicken right into the stock with lots of fresh herbs and citrus. It’s a memory of the fall for me. I was thinking a lot about my mom and my grandma and how it’s getting colder, and I wanted a dish that would hug me back. This was made from memory. I actually kept the carcass in The Dutchess after I made the soup, and I cooked it down. Soup is a very special feeling of love and maternity for me.
While I was going to the New School at Parsons, I was working at this gay bar. On a night that I was going to get ice, when I was barbacking, they were setting up a spotlight and a couple of podiums. They said, "Oh, tonight is gay Jeopardy." And I was like, "Oh, snap." This was a new job, and I was super excited because I was like, "Oh, I didn't even know there was going to be a show here. This is great." This drag queen came in, her name was Linda Simpson, and she hosts bingo and stuff now; she's actually quite hilarious and more of a comedic drag queen.
She walked in with this sort of Midwest pizzazz and style and sarcasm. And I absolutely fell in love. When it was over, I went to her and said I wanted to participate. She said, "Oh, we could work something out. Do you have a character that you perform in? Or do you do comedy?" And I was like, "Well, no, none of them." I was like, "I have dressed in drag once before for Halloween." She replied, "Oh, well, if you come up with a stage name and a look, we'll see where it goes."
So I did, and the first name that came to me was Shaquanda because I wanted something that was representative of where I'm from. After figuring out my name, I had to go find clothes and makeup. All of my girlfriends were really good about helping me raid their closets for stretchy items. A month later I realized I was doing drag a couple of times a week, sometimes more.
I've bartended, I've waited tables, maître d’d, and I managed a little bit, but I always enjoyed waiting tables and bartending because I was able to learn about the dishes that were being made and talk to the chefs. The chefs always appreciated me because I appreciated them so much for all of the wonderful dishes they would create. Now my curiosity has led me to create this business that revolves around food, and I enjoy it.
My sauce business began as an extension of my drag performance. One of my friends had asked me to perform at Bushwig [Brooklyn’s annual drag festival]. I told the producer that I would only do it if I was allowed to perform in people's mouths, essentially. I had plantain chips, and I put my sauce on the cracker or plantain chip and gave it to people to eat.
My sauce business began as an extension of my drag performance.
People were very excited about the flavors. At the end, the heat would start creeping in and they would have their moment of like, Oh, that's hot, or, Oh, that's getting too spicy for me. And that was the end of my performance. Almost every time, everyone would ask if they could purchase it. I was like, "This is my art project. I can't sell this." It was like part of my outfit.
My brand identity revolves around spicy foods, so it will more than likely stay in that vein. The way Barbadians and a lot of other islands approach peppers is as an integral part of the cuisine, and it just made sense with drag because drag is spicy. I love that when you eat spicy foods, it really opens your palate to be more receptive to flavors. Spicy food creates a euphoric feeling.
I love that when you eat spicy foods, it really opens your palate to be more receptive to flavors.
My original sauce flavor is a spin on the Barbadian standard hot sauce, which usually has turmeric, onions, mustard, hot peppers, vinegar, salt, and a tiny bit of sugar. I added horseradish and apple cider vinegar. Onions are the first ingredient in all of my sauces — the way Barbadians cook involves multiple layers of onion flavor. It’s intense.
Every time I get more inventory I sell out, which is a great thing, but it still gives me anxiety. I hope to expand my line into other pantry items. That's the goal.