ITHACA, N.Y.—Upon entering the K-House location and glancing at the menu. As opposed to perhaps the normal pub food, the karaoke bar on Catherwood Road boasts offerings including chicken wings, barbeque ribs, fried cabbage and pineapple upside-down cake, all made fresh in the kitchen.

All food available is cooked by Candace Foster and crew, who recently moved into the kitchen after agreeing to a collaboration with Alina Kim, the owner of the K-House. Along with her daughter, Niya Foster, Candace is the founder of Nu-Spice Catering, which moved in September 2021 from the kitchen at Cornell Cooperative Extension, where it had started in March 2021 doing Caribbean Wednesdays, to the K-House.

The original idea of Nu Spice was the brainchild of the elder Foster and her husband, Terrence Foster. She had spent years cooking for her children and family (or her “taste testers,” as she puts it), honing her craft out of a desire to cook she had felt since she was a kid.

Growing up, she used to cook with her grandmother, who would request Candace’s help in the kitchen, along with other older family members like her mom and aunts—which is the extent of her culinary training. That experience, along with a passion to be original, led Foster to gradually form her own cooking style that entailed intentionally making her food, recipes and ingredients distinct.

“You don’t know what type of flavor you’re going to get when you taste my food,” she said. “It’s going to taste good but it’s definitely not going to be the original flavor.”

Foster and her husband had spent the last three years planning to launch a business, but just five weeks after Nu Spice debuted, Terrence passed away of heart failure. For a few weeks after, Foster wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue, but soon found that it gives her “joy and peace to be in the kitchen,” surprising people with new tastes.

Even with the new space in the K-House, which she is effusively grateful for, Foster remains focused on getting her own food truck at some point. She thinks it fits her style better, free of some of the formalities that would normally be associated with having one’s own actual restaurant.

“I’m more of a food truck cook,” Foster said, laughing. “When you come from being a home cook, and then dressing it and doing it fancy like in restaurants […] I just want to get it on the plate. […] How I think of it is we’re a food truck in a karaoke bar.”

And Foster’s done quite a bit of that, in a variety of ways. Chicken is her favorite dish to cook, she said, because it lends itself to the type of flavor experimentation that Foster thrives doing.

Foster said she’s most comfortable sticking with a rotating menu of food options, though she wants to maintain a soul food-centric slate of offerings. While she’s confident that she could make just about anything appetizing, it’s important to her to not extend herself too much.

“I like to stay close to my roots, what I know,” Foster said. “I can cook anything. I can make it taste good. But I try not to throw too much out there.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com