Some like it loud

Meet Canieka Fleming, the new chef at the Loud Kitchen at the Ritz.


The kitchen at the Ritz has gone through many iterations in the past dozen years — everything from home cooking to higher-end offerings, to Brazilian cuisine, and everything in between. It’s rejuvenated again with Chef Canieka Fleming at the helm now, and she welcomed The Times to her Loud Kitchen a couple of weeks ago.

I’d already sampled some of the menu before I went to meet Fleming, but I was very happy to try more. What I left with, though, besides a very fulfilled appetite, was a greater sense of how hard work pays off.

“My mom was a very avid cook, and I couldn’t wait to get home to eat,” Fleming laughed when I asked her how she got to be a chef. “I had two brothers, and my mother adopted a lot of kids from the community. If my mom was at work, I cooked, and I’d figure out how to cook for everybody.”

There were a lot of baked beans and hotdogs on the menu when she was growing up, Fleming explained, so she figured out different ways to prepare them. Her mom was a single parent, and her grandmother was a great teacher in the kitchen as well, but it was her mom’s ability to add just the right amount of seasoning to her dishes that really stayed with Fleming.

“I watched her cook, and I watched her season, and she had a great flavor palate — it doesn’t have enough of this or too much of that — she was really good at it,” Fleming says.

When it came time to decide what to do after high school, Fleming was first settling on the idea of owning her own business. She and her brothers grew up in Fredericksburg, Va., and the family had trouble making ends meet.

“I knew I wanted to have a business,” she explained. “Me and my brothers and Mom, it was just us, and we didn’t have a lot of money. We were homeless sometimes, and we made do with what we had. We all knew and understood the drill — never stop trying, and never quit. No matter how tired you are.”

Her mother asked Fleming what she wanted to do after she finished high school, and offered, “Military or college?” and so Fleming started community college. “I knew I could cook,” she said. She won local culinary competitions, and says she knew she had the flavors down pat, but Fleming was still struggling. She caught a lucky break eventually, though, and ended up with a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where she expanded her skill set and learned even more about working hard.

“It was one of very few paid scholarships,” Fleming says, “and I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked, and saw potential in myself that I’d never seen before.” It was during culinary school that Fleming felt as if she came into her own, where she felt most like herself. She was assigned a mentor — cookbook author, journalist, and seasonal Islander Joan Nathan, and she ended up traveling back and forth to the Vineyard, working as a private chef. She met Jan Buhrman and Juli Vanderhoop, both Island women in the business of creating delicious, healthy, and local food. She was able to use Vanderhoop’s commercial kitchen for her catering business, bringing her own take on flavor to the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival last August, and the NAACP’s Taste of Juneteenth event. Fleming and her recipes were making the rounds, and people began to notice.

“Joan brought me here, Jan showed me the truth of our industry, Juli allowed me to be myself, and Gretchen [Coleman] gave me the confidence to move past any situation like my mom would,” Fleming says.

Her success didn’t happen overnight, though, and Fleming was let go from a few positions on the Island before she landed on her feet — including one where the powers that be declared she was “too loud.” But she met her partner here on the Island, and knew she wanted to stay. It meant sleeping in her car sometimes, and the Island’s familiar story about “no affordable housing available” became her story. She was one of the first women to move into the new housing for low-income women in Oak Bluffs. Fleming said she was so used to housing instability that she still slept in her car, even though she had a room in the residence. Finally, a caseworker convinced her to sleep inside the house.

“I was so traumatized that every time it got bad, I thought my car was my safety net,” Fleming explained. “But I met my partner, and I loved my clients here, and I just thought to myself, ‘Stay still.’ Every day I said, ‘Stay still, don’t jump,’ and I got a job and I worked.”

Things are definitely looking up for Fleming these days. She’s got a terrific menu at the Ritz, bursting with loud flavors, and she’s brought a solid brunch menu to the Ritz every Sunday. Along with interesting cocktails like a larger-than-life Bloody Mary embellished with a chicken wing, and a vanilla vodka and Kahlúa drink that goes down way too easy, Fleming has Southern Deviled Eggs and Loud Chicken and Red Velvet Waffles on the menu.

Looks like that criticism of being too loud ended up working in Fleming’s favor. She can be who she is now, and she’s very comfortable in her Loud Kitchen at the Ritz, where, by the way, you don’t want to pass up the beef sliders or the Cajun sweet corn.

You’ll find the Loud Kitchen at the Ritz on Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs. Open Tuesday through Sunday, with winter hours of 1 pm to 12:30 am. Check out the menu at