Keon K. Nickie, Artistic Assistant of Dallas Black Dance Theatre: Encore!, Shares His Family’s Trinidadian Macaroni Pie

February 6, 2024

Keon K. Nickie learned to cook by watching three of the wonderful women in his life: his sister, mother, and grandmother. “I started at a tender age, 7 or 8,” says the former Dallas Black Dance Theatre member, who now works as the artistic assistant for DBDT’s second company,­ Encore! Growing up in Arouca, Trinidad and Tobago, Sunday meals were a highlight of the week, and macaroni pie was always on the menu. “We’d have it with fried rice, stew chicken, potato salad, and callaloo [Caribbean stewed greens],” says Nickie, who, since moving stateside for college, has continued the tradition by making macaroni pie nearly every Sunday. Now, he invites friends over to share the fruits of his labors.

For Nickie, cooking is more than just a hobby. “Growing up, it was either becoming a dancer or going to school to become a chef,” says Nickie. Though he picked the former, he’s still looking for ways to turn his passion for food into a career. He runs his own prepared-meal business, and tracks his ventures in the kitchen on Instagram @chef_nickie. “Cooking is very therapeutic for me,” says Nickie, who prefers to spend time in the kitchen by himself. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

Seasoning as Accessories

Nickie applies the same philosophy to cooking that he does to fashion. “Your body is the base in terms of fashion, where in cooking the base will be your rice, your meats, your beans,” he says. “The seasoning is the accessories. You don’t want to be too much, and you don’t want to undercut yourself either. Mix and match—sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you’ll learn for next time.”

Tune In to Your Ancestors

Nickie urges other cooks to taste as they go—he learned to cook by observing, not measuring, and sees all measurements as a guide rather than a rule. “When our ancestors tell us to stop pouring seasoning, that’s when we stop,” he says.

pasta in one bowl and an orange sauce in another
Courtesy Nickie.


  • 1 lb extra-sharp cheddar cheese (“In Trinidad, we use New Zealand cheddar cheese,” says Nickie.)
  • 1 lb grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp salt, for boiling pasta
  • 1 lb (16 oz) dried elbow macaroni, penne, or other shaped pasta
  • 2 tbsps unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease pans
  • 1 1/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz cream cheese (Nickie says that you can substitute
    2 whisked eggs for the cream cheese, which binds the dish together, though he prefers the richer taste of the cream cheese.)
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 2 tsps granulated garlic
  • 2 tsps onion powder
  • 2 tbsps ketchup
  • 1/2 cup creamy French dressing (“My secret weapon,” adds Nickie.)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp adobo seasoning
  • 1/2 packet Sazón seasoning
  • 2 whole pimiento peppers from a jar, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley or fresh parsley, finely chopped
an orange macaroni dish in a large red bowl
Nickie’s macaroni pie. Courtesy Nickie.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Shred the cheddar cheese using the large side of a box grater.
  3. Mix the shredded cheddar together with the grated parmesan cheese, then divide the cheese mixture in half.
  4. Bring a large pot of water (4–5 quarts) to a rapid boil. Add salt and pasta. Stir for the fi rst minute or two to prevent sticking, then cook until al dente (about 8–10 minutes) and drain. While the pasta is still very hot, return it to the pot. Add softened butter and mix until melted. Place the pasta in a bowl and set aside.
  5. Place the same large pot over low to medium heat and add the remaining ingredients. Stir together until the sauce is smooth and creamy.
  6. Add half the cheese mixture and stir until combined.
  7. Add the pasta to the cream sauce and mix well.
  8. Grease one or more glass or ceramic casserole dishes with softened butter.
  9. Pour the cheese-and-pasta mixture into the dishes and top with the remaining half of the cheese.
  10. Bake the macaroni pie until the top is golden brown, about 30–45 minutes.
  11. Allow the pie to cool, then cut it into squares to enjoy. (“Pray for discipline,” adds Nickie.)