Long before taking on the moniker, Haitian Chef, Stephan Berrouet-Durand simply saw food as a way to commune with others. Food was very much a part of his upbringing and would shape how he connected with his native country. “I grew up in Haiti. I grew up around food. I grew up around a grandmother who had some of the biggest Sunday dinners at the house. So every childhood food memory comes from Haiti,” says Berrouet-Durand.
Although food is a way of life, it isn’t always regarded as a way to fulfill the American Dream. Berrouet-Durand, like so many growing up in Haitian households that stress education and careers in the sciences, didn’t give the culinary industry one thought. In fact, he says it never crossed his mind, which was possibly due in part to the lack of representation of professional chefs who looked like him.
After dabbling with various majors during college in the states, he returned to Haiti for a year, working at one of the country’s top hotels. Here he would learn the hospitality side and the inner workings of the kitchen. Still unsure about a culinary career when he returned to the U.S., he says, “The day I walked into Johnson and Wales, it was the day that I felt I was at home.”
Pushing Haitian Cuisine to the Forefront
Coupled with the fact that he had been cooking all his life, Johnson and Wales sealed a passion for the culinary arts, propelling Berrouet-Durand to have a successful career as an executive chef in the Air Force. While working for this branch of the armed forces, he also owned two restaurants on one of the bases and received the Chief of Staff Medal of Excellence for his work that included cooking American cuisine with French influences.
Beyond the military, Berrouet-Durand owned a catering company, opened his first Caribbean/soul food restaurant in 2007 in New Jersey. He also consulted for Haitian restaurants. A change of events would redirect his path and lead to placing more emphasis on the essence of Haitian cuisine and its global influences. “After a triple bypass in 2009, I moved back to Haiti. This is when I really started diving into Haitian cuisine and this is when the Haitian Chef was born,” he says.
Becoming a staunch advocate for the cuisine, Berrouet-Durand’s stories are rich in context around Haiti’s history that starts with the Taino people, followed by Spanish and French colonization and then its road to independence. Following its declaration of independence, he says Haiti opened its arms to immigrants from countries such as Italy, Syria, Lebanon and Portugal. “There are so many different cultures that immigrated to the island of Haiti. This is where I think the richness of Haiti’s culture and gastronomy comes from. When you go from region to region and town to town, each of those towns brings a different flavor, bring a different type of food, different recipe. It is not the same recipe everywhere you go,” he says.
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Speaking of recipes, the chef shares, “I learned a lot by watching. So no recipes. And I don’t know if it is a gift, but I can see you do something once and I can get it done again.” Gift or not, it is definitely a skill that has allowed him to usher food traditions to the forefront.
Berrouet-Durand co-founded the Haitian Culinary Alliance, a global non-profit created to “forge a strong and united network of foodservice, hospitality and culinary professionals of Haitian descent,” as well as the Haitian Food and Spirit Festival and an event called the Taste of Haiti that takes place in partnership with the cities of North Miami and Orlando, Florida.
With most in-person events on hold until later this fall or 2022, Berrouet-Durand says there was an opportunity to bring a different event to the table this year. And with that, the idea to host the first Haitian Restaurant Week now had wings to take off.
Inspired by a Movement
When the founders of Black Restaurant Week launched a movement in 2016 to bring more attention and resources to Black-owned establishments, the response has been wildly successful. With events taking place in more than 20 cities across the U.S., Berrouet-Durand’s admiration for the concept sparked the idea to create an event that supported Haitian restaurants specifically the same way.
Haitian Restaurant Week officially kicked off on Monday, May 17 and will continue through Sunday, May 30. With many restaurants being mom-and-pop operations in general as well as generational, Berrouet-Durand feels this is a great time to indulge at your favorite Haitian eatery or explore one for the first time.
Currently, there are over 30 restaurants across cities such as Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando and Washington, D.C. A complete listing is available on the Haitian Culinary Alliance’s website.
Being the first one, Berrouet-Durand says that there are plans for a fall edition in September.
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In addition to introducing the richness of Haitian cuisine to new audiences, the Haitian chef wants to use this week and beyond to create new narratives about the country, nicknamed The Pearl of the Antilles, that has given so much to the world that includes agriculture and art. “We’ve been tagged as the poorest country in the world, but that is not the Haiti that I know. That is not the Haiti that I just spent ten years in. There is so much richness in Haiti. Our last president always said, ‘Haiti’s too rich to be poor,’ but yet that is the tagline pushed on Haiti. And as a chef, I want to tell the story of Haiti through a culinary lens.”
For more information, follow chef Stephan Berrouet-Durand on Instagram and visit the Haitian Culinary Alliance at https://haitianculinaryalliance.org/home/ and follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.