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Travelers heading for New Hampshire can get dining recommendations from Here in New Hampshire’s “25 Best Restaurants.” Portsmouth, Seacoast, the Lakes Region, Manchester and White Mountain are mentioned as fine-dining options for visitors and locals. But a Top Chef alumnus is expanding his visions for upscale dining with the takeover of Pavilion in Wolfeboro.
“We’re starting to see more people take those risks within the state,” says Chris Viaud, the new chef and owner of Pavilion. “It provides a lot more opportunities for young cooks in New Hampshire. They can get those fine-dining work experiences while living close to home.”
Pursuing New Patrons at Pavilion
After culinary school, Viaud went to Boston to sharpen his culinary chops in high-end, big-city dining establishments. He then moved his culinary journey to the Granite State to pursue his fine-dining interests and live closer to family.
“I have all this experience, training, resources and supportive people. I thought, let me try my hand at bringing a higher-end dining experience to New Hampshire,” the chef explains.
Viaud became the owner of the Pavilion last month along with his pastry chef wife, Emilee. “Pavilion is a fine-dining restaurant located in the Lakes Region. We offer seasonally-inspired cuisine, sourcing from local farms,” he says.
New Hampshire Magazine assistant editor Caleb Jagoda wrote this about Pavilion in a March article: “PAVILION is a great restaurant. As far as fine dining goes, the food is simple but inventive, delicious but accessible, by no means intimidating without sacrificing quality. It was an exceptional entry point into fine dining…”
That is the positive impression Pavilion’s owner hopes to make on customers at all three restaurants in his Northern Comfort Dining Group LLC. “We want to have that sense of family, that inviting sense of warmth,” asserts Viaud. “When the guests know there was passion involved with the cooking, they can leave feeling inspired, refreshed and renewed by the dining experience.”
The Pavilion at 126 South Main Street is located next to the historic Pickering House Inn. Chef Viaud comments on his connection with the dinner series offered by The Barn at Pickering House. “I’ve had multiple opportunities to present the kind of food I prepare at Greenleaf and Ansanm at those Barn dinner events. I’m looking forward to highlighting the chefs coming into the Barn and the Pavilion and showcasing the great things happening throughout New Hampshire.”
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Greenleaf Captures Attention
Chef Viaud first captured the attention of upscale dining enthusiasts when he opened Greenleaf in 2019. He transformed an old bank building at 54 Nashua Street in downtown Milford into a high-end destination for tasting New England’s seasons through his cuisine.
“We do our best to source from local farms in the area. Our Greenleaf team will go to the local farms to pick up ingredients and get a feel for the products they are touching. They help develop relationships with the farmers and tell the stories of the farmers and farmland through the food we present on the table,” emphasizes the restaurant’s chef and owner.
He describes Greenleaf’s atmosphere as casual and comfortable, with rustic-style food refined by classic cooking methods. “I do mostly lean towards upscale plating with beautifully presented food, focusing on a lot of locally-sourced ingredients prepared with French techniques,” says Viaud.
Herb-crusted cod is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Spice-rubbed duck breast and handmade pasta are also on the menu, which changes with the seasons. “Often, we’ll have salmon on the menu and scallops. We work with local fishermen and fishmongers in sourcing and utilizing what is available,” the chef continues.
Greenleaf’s owner attracted the attention of one of America’s most recognized culinary organizations last year. He was named an Emerging Chef semifinalist for the 2022 James Beard Awards. “It was shocking, and I just appreciated being recognized,” recalls Viaud. “For me to be put on that platform, it highlighted that there is potential for anyone to step into an area where they feel less comfortable and excel at what they love.”
Finding His Life’s Work
Growing up in Massachusetts, Viaud did not know what he wanted to do after high school. His mother encouraged him to choose a career path. “I only had one reflection on what I enjoyed doing as a child, and that was helping my mom in the kitchen,” the chef says.
Those memories sparked thoughts of going to culinary school. “It was the memories of spending time in the kitchen, knowing it is the heart of the home. It provides warmth and comfort,” adds Viaud. “Having the opportunity to build on those memories for others, I think that is where the thought process began.”
Now, the process of creating in his restaurant kitchens gives Viaud joy. “Being able to go to the local farms and touch the raw ingredients, see what is growing, and be inspired by nature. That essentially dictates the menu and how each dish will look.”
The restaurateur graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts and Food & Beverage Industry Management. After moving to Boston, Viaud spent three years at the modern French restaurant Deuxave, working his way up to sous chef. He also expanded his culinary expertise by helping to open four restaurants in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
“I definitely have a lot of French influence from doing heavy sauce work and purees and knowing how to highlight fresh ingredients,” Viaud indicates. He also incorporates flavors from the French Caribbean as a first-generation American of Haitian descent. “Later in my career, I appreciated those memories of cooking with my mom even more. As I developed as a chef, I wanted to broaden my cooking style and lean more into the food and the flavors I grew up eating.”
Family Affair at Ansanm
Some soul-searching inspired Chef Viuad to connect his love of the Haitian and Caribbean flavors he grew up with to his passion for cooking. He started by serving Haitian-influenced food at Ansanm pop-ups in January 2021. The popularity of the Sunday dinners paved the way for a brick-and-mortar Ansanm to open at 20 South Street in October 2022.
Viaud’s second restaurant in Milford presented the perfect opportunity to make the business a family affair. The chef, his parents and siblings created a brand from their desire to learn more about the food and recipes of their childhoods. “The first dinner we launched was pretty much during the height of the pandemic. We did all online takeout and sold over 100 meals,” Ansanm’s owner notes.
The restaurant offers authentic and modern interpretations of Haitian flavors influenced by some American favorites. The menu items include slow-cooked meats, seafood and vegetables. The flavors are bold with warm spices.
“Our spice blend is called epis, a blend of garlic, herbs, citrus, sweet and hot peppers. We use that as a base for seasoning all of our all meats, vegetables and seafood. It’s also used in rice dishes. It’s like Caribbean comfort.”
Viaud’s parents, Myrlene and Yves, do most of the cooking at Ansanm. His sister Kassie Viaud overseas operations for the three restaurants under the Northern Comfort Hospitality Group brand. “We have a very friendly staff willing to learn and appreciate all the flavors. We are thankful that there are people out there willing to work with us and learn and understand what we are trying to do,” acknowledges the chef.
Enthusiasm for the food served at the fast-casual eatery continues to bring in repeat customers and new faces. A top seller is a Haitian-spiced chicken thigh on a brioche bun with crispy plantains and a pikliz cabbage slaw.
A stewed chicken, poule nan sos and diri kole, and a butter cake are also on the menu at Ansanm. “We really turned it into something special for this area, which is predominately white and not rich in diverse cultures,” says Viaud.
Competing and Camaraderie
In April 2021, Viaud’s exposure to a diverse group of chefs kindled a stronger desire to explore Haitian cuisine. He reflects on the impact competing on “Top Chef” had on him. “I think my season was unique because it presented me with an opportunity to connect with chefs who look like me and have a unique approach to their style of cuisine. They are putting their culture and heritage at the forefront.”
The Milford restaurant owner made it through nine rounds of season 18 during the pandemic. He won two QuickFire challenges, including one where his grilled cheese and tomato soup earned the chef $10,000. However, Viaud fell short of delivering the vibrant flavors that garner praise from New Hampshire diners, and the Top Chef judges sent him home.
“I definitely learned to be true to who I am and, of course, stay humble. There is nothing more awakening than being on national television and judged by acclaimed chefs and critics.”
Chef Viaud stays in touch with some of his Top Chef competitors and has joined in on culinary events promoting Black chefs. He travels to other states to check out different kitchen operations and restaurant businesses as he focuses on building his brands and developing new concepts.
The competition reinforced what Viaud already knew after over a decade of refining his culinary techniques. No matter how skilled you are, you can always learn more. “I’ve had plenty of opportunities where people have mentored me and pushed me to pursue my dreams and goals. I want the same opportunity to teach the next generation that this is still a viable career option, whether you’re cooking or becoming a server or a bartender,” says the restaurateur.
Being a beacon of hope for younger chefs is a priority for Viaud, who stresses the importance of patience, sacrifice and passion. “Every moment is an opportunity to learn from each chef present at any location. It is a chance to teach one another about the ingredients we work with and the reasoning behind a dish. Together, we can work to present a unique dining experience that leaves the guest wanting to come back for the next one.”