Beyond Off the Eaten Path
By AnaMaria Bech
Click aqui para español- >Nicole Caridad Más allá de su Instagram Off the Eaten Path
Nicole Caridad Ralston is fashionable, creative, and charming. That’s what you can easily tell from looking at her successful Instagram account, Off the Eaten Path NOLA, a profile dedicated to showcasing the most amazing food New Orleans has to offer. Her aesthetically appealing feed has acquired more than 15,000 followers and has gotten the attention of New Orleans tourism agency New Orleans and Co., which named Ralston as one of New Orleans’ Top Ten Hispanics to know in 2018.
Nicole Caridad takes part in the most exciting food-related events in town and she gets hired for marketing/influencer campaigns by many local restaurants to promote their menus.
It is hard to believe the food blog isn’t her full-time job. Behind the foodie extraordinaire is a very committed Higher Education Administration professional. Dr. Nicole Caridad Ralston is an educator in leadership, intercultural development, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Those who know Nicole personally describe her as “the real deal.”
In a world so dazzled by the superficial, finding out about someone like Nicole Caridad is a breath of fresh air. Sure, she looks like she is always Instagram-ready with stylish clothes, perfectly done manicures, and flawless make-up, but her style goes beyond the superficial. Nicole Caridad is highly educated. She cherishes her doctorate degree because she was the first person in her family to go to college straight out of high school. She says higher education was a powerful experience for her, an experience she feels many people should be able to attain.
Nicole deliberately moved to New Orleans in 2012 after completing her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from NC State University. Enticed by the rich history of the Crescent City, the cultural traditions, the food scene, and the similarities to the Caribbean, New Orleans became Ralston’s clear choice for relocating with her then-boyfriend, now-husband. “I really deep down felt called to New Orleans... I really could not imagine life anywhere else. The food is amazing, the culture is amazing, everything about it I just love, and I feel very honored to live and be in this place and to call it home.”
Her father, an American of Irish descent, met her Cuban immigrant mother in Los Angeles, where Ralston was born. The family moved to South Florida when Nicole was a child. That’s where Nicole grew up, surrounded by her Cuban family and enjoying weekends at a farm in Homestead where she learned to love her roots. “I have beautiful memories about being on the farm and picking food and eating fresh meat that grew in the farm... Rabbits, chickens, goats, pigs… Being in the kitchen with my abuelo and mom, cooking.”
Her bicultural upbringing has given Nicole a high awareness of the social inequities people experience. Growing up having to navigate two very different cultures, languages, food, and customs instilled in Nicole a sense of empathy and a deep understanding of cross-cultural communication, finding validity in how individuals from other cultures value different things.
Her higher education journey was also one of finding herself and understanding who she really was. In many moments of her life, having different cultural influences made her feel as if she did not fully belong anywhere. “As a mixed-race woman, coming from Cuban refugee immigrants on one side of the family, and the other side being a white, working-class family, I was a free/reduced-lunch kid. A lot of my marginalized identities, as well as privileged identities of [passing as] white, having lighter skin than other members of the Cuban side of my family, all these experiences kind of blend together and have given me a lot of empathy into what folks are experiencing.”
All these experiences and the knowledge acquired during her professional development have been put to great use in Nicole’s work. As the Associate Director of Education & Programming at Beloved Community, a non-profit consulting firm focused on implementing regional, sustainable solutions for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Ralston, as she is known professionally, finds it important to evaluate organizations through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. She believes it is essential to push people to think deeply about racial equity, which permeates the education system, businesses and everything in this country. Guiding organizations through the process of understanding who they serve, who they hire, how they involve the community, and what inclusion looks like in their organization, contributes to an intentional economic development. “I want to leave a society where folks feel included, where policies and practices are equitable across identity markets like race, gender, class, etcetera, and [I want] us to treat each other better and get back to centering humanity and who [we] are as people. [I] want us to collectively work together to uplift each other.”
Whether it is through her food blog at influencer events, or at professional speaking conferences, Nicole Caridad strives to live her values. She keeps busy with promoting restaurants in the city, serving on the board of the ACLU, being a publicity co-chair of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s annual Azúcar Ball, consulting for organizations, and even dancing in some of the city’s parades with the Latinx dance group, Ritmeaux Krewe.
Nicole Caridad Ralston is certainly an inspiring individual, a proud Latina, and a passionate New Orleanian who consciously contributes to the betterment of our community and our society. She uses her platforms to promote and uplift businesses in New Orleans, discuss issues people are afraid to talk about, and to promote the politics and values she believes in. Nicole embraces her bicultural roots, is a declared feminist, and couldn’t do without her food blogging or her consulting work. Through both identities she has found the perfect balance to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. She stays connected to her community, simply by doing what she loves and sharing it with those around her.
Photography: CBass Studios