Today we’d like to introduce you to Tracy Pretlow.
Tracy, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I guess you could say my love for pepper and food as a whole, began with my mom. My mom hails from the beautiful hills of Voinjama, the capital of Lofa County, Liberia and home to the Gbandi [Bon-DĒĒ], one of the 16 ethnic groups of Liberia. My mom is an incredible woman that knows her way around a kitchen and hates flavorless food. She is the original Gbandi Babe.
Liberian cuisine, similar to many West African cuisines— yet in a unique lane of its own— is extremely flavorful and filled with vibrant colors and aromas ranging from flavor-packed stews, spiced meats, rice dishes, spicy soups, sweetbreads and so much more. My mom always has tips and tricks for preparing food in ways one wouldn’t readily think of trying, but her methods created the rich and delicious foodie memories of my childhood. My mom cooked almost everything my family ate when I was growing up, and I never missed a meal.
My mom, being easy going and the creative spirit she is, allowed me to start cooking at an early age… and I don’t mean the kiddy stuff. I was granted a full range of the kitchen as young as seven or eight years old. That meant groceries, hot oil and sharp knives, and I absolutely loved it! When my cousins came over, I’d sit them down at the breakfast nook and cook for them— their mom wouldn’t let them use sharp knives yet, let alone cook! When I didn’t have an audience, I loved cooking and creating in the kitchen all the same. I’d pretend I was on the Food Network and I would dice so many onions and cook ground beef in more ways than you could imagine! By about nine, I was making my own scones, turtle sauce, and had even mastered greasy, super sweet, apple dumplings.
Of course, now my culinary skills and overall take on food and health have increased tremendously as well as my hunger for spicy food. I look to food not only as a source of nutrients but a creative art form and an adventure of its own. My love for food and the world of nutrition prompted me to further my knowledge and become a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). Being a first-generation Liberian-American, the love and respect I have for my culture, both African and Black-American, has been a tremendous component in the makeup of who I am. Gbandi Babe Pepper Sauce pays homage to my Liberian heritage and is the perfect blend of my mom’s recipe and my finesse.
I have always enjoyed hosting and sharing my concoctions with friends and family. About a year and a half ago, my boyfriend was celebrating his birthday and decided he wanted to have a casual party with his friends. As one of his birthday gifts, I told him I would cook for everyone. What started as a list of about 20 people quickly turned into about 50 people and I tasked myself with the challenge of making traditional Liberian dishes and what better condiment to serve with Liberian food than Liberian pepper sauce? Needless to say, the party was a complete hit.
There was barely any food leftover, and the pepper sauce was the first thing to run out! Everyone was trying to figure out what ingredients I used and whether I would give them my recipes or not. I did not [laughs]. About a year removed and with my wonderful boyfriend’s encouragement and vast experience in the world of procurement, I started producing and selling Gbandi Babe Pepper Sauce and I haven’t looked back.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Not at all. Every step has been a struggle to some degree but all a part of my story, I can’t wait until I get to a point where I can look back and laugh. In the very beginning, the beasts of my struggles were finding a consistent and trusted source for the various peppers my recipe calls for and figuring out materials for jarring and branding. I’m in a good place right now. I’ve still got a way to go and some major goals to accomplish but I’m on track and operating like a well-oiled machine.
Please tell us about Gbandi Babe.
My brand Gbandi Babe is an umbrella of sorts. Not one single entity or idea but a bouquet of adventures, food, creativity, not so random thoughts, and so much more in the most cohesive way. Gbandi Babe is my brainchild and a never-ending evolution. Gbandi Babe is Me!
At the moment, my brand is most known for food, nutrition and style. Food and nutritional obviously go hand in hand but also further than just a category. While I have a deep adoration for flavors and textures, I truly believe that you can eat yourself to wellness. The foods we consume or even crave are so indicative to the type of the lives we will lead. This is why I not only produce my all-natural, vegan-friendly pepper sauce, but I also provide nutrition and fitness consulting.
We all know first impressions are everything, especially in a place like LA, so style plays a big role in my brand. From the way I dress a plate being served, to the way I am dressed when I walk into an event, it all goes together. I often intrigue with my flair, in which I of course, often blend Western and African attire and form bonds either through my food or a friendly smile.
Whether the catalyst be my fashion sense, food or the way I carry myself— throughout my endeavors with Gbandi Babe, what makes me the proudest is simple. Putting on for my culture. There aren’t a lot of Liberians creating and distributing brands in the American market, and I plan to do so for a long time to come.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Being young and just enjoying life. As with cooking, my mom pretty much allowed me to do anything that wasn’t harmful or bad in some way or another, so long as I cleaned up my messes. I’d sit for hours cutting up papers making— God knows what. I’d go swimming for hours at a time or make my Barbie dolls bungee jump off the back of the living room couch. I just really let my imagination run wild. My mom provided many things for my sister and I when we were growing up and the best of all would have to be her endless love, supportive words, and her expert creativity. I really owe my creativity to her. Oh, and all the yummy food she made [laughs]. She allowed me to explore and experience and that truly molded me into the person I am now – an imaginative, well rounded Gbandi Babe.
- 4oz jar: $6 + the cost of shipping
- 6oz jar: $8 + the cost of shipping
- Website: GbandiBabe.com
- Email: YoungGbandiBabe@gmail.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gbandi_babe/
(Headshot) Mark Coco
(Pepper) Gbandi Babe