Haitian cuisine has long been absent from the most prestigious culinary circles. However, through appearances on popular TV shows, participation in rigorous competitions, awards, honors, and philanthropy work, the chefs below are bringing Haitian cooking to the forefront of the food service industry, while supporting the advancement of their Haitian brothers and sisters and promoting Haitian culture.
Chef Alain Lemaire
Chef Alain Lemaire was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and grew up in Delmas watching his mother and the other women of his town cook wonderful food for church functions. Following high school, he moved to Florida to pursue cooking. He was accepted to the distinguished culinary program at Johnson & Wales University and graduated from there with honors. Lemaire has participated in many festivals around the world, including Montreal’s Taste of the Caribbean, South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami, and the A La Carte Food and Culture Festival in New York. In 2015, he took his cooking national as a contestant on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen. In 2017, he was Inducted into the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce of Florida’s Top 20 Under 40. He is co-founder and executive chef of catering companies Sensory Delights and Arome Catering and creator of a special project called Soleil Entertainment, which promotes Haitian Culture through theater, music, poetry and other artforms. And if all this was not enough, he also takes part in several philanthropic organizations, including Haiti Chefs for Education, the Haitian Culinary Alliance, and World Central Kitchen, a network of chefs combatting hunger and poverty around the world. ( Photo credit hsbresort.com)
Cynthia “Chef Thia” Verna
Born in Pelerin, just outside Port-au-Prince, Chef Thia grew up in her grandmother’s kitchen and began working in her Mother’s restaurant at 17. After honing her skills there, she opened her own restaurant, Atelier Les Bamboos, still not even 21 years of age. At 21, Verna moved to the United States to further her cooking career. She attended the renowned Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute, graduating cum laude. From there she developed her catering company, Chef Thia’s Cuisne, and swears by the power of fresh herbs and spices which are an integral part of Haitian cooking. This year, she scored big for Haiti as winner of the extremely prestigious and competitive Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington D.C. On TV, she has served as co-host of Taste the Islands, season 2 and is co-author of 50 Favorite Haitian Recipes: Taste the Islands Essentials (Volume 2). Verna also published her memoirs, Ordeals, in 2014 in which she discusses being a victim of sexual abuse. The book became a bestseller in Haiti and Verna continues to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. ( Photo credit: tastetheislandtv.com)
Davidson “Chef D” Destinoble
Chef Davidson Destinoble hails from the town of Port-ay Mori in St Marc, Haiti. Growing up, he observed the joy and strength his mother found in the kitchen, as well as her skill and the small restaurant she had in town. Impatient to learn her craft and cook for himself, Destinoble’s mother gave him his first pot when he was just a boy, and the rest is history. He moved to Miami with his father and brother, and one career day in high school took note of a demonstration given by a representative from Johnson & Wales University. He later applied to the university and was accepted. Among many achievements, Destinoble is the first Afro-Caribbean Chef to be elected a full member of the very prestigious Le Club des Chefs des chefs. With Chef Lemaire, he is also co-founder of the first ever culinary battle TV show in Haiti, Le Chef. He is also co-founder of the Haitian Culinary Alliance, which brings together a network of food service, hospitality and culinary professionals of Haitian descent to empower one another and provide educational opportunities. ( Photo credit: chefsroll.com)
Chef Ivan Dorvil
Chef Ivan Dorvil was born in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. When he was just a baby, his family moved to Montreal and then again to Miami when he was 11. He received his culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu. After work in such renowned establishments as Oasis Café, Café Nutmeg, and Nuvo Kafe, Dorvil is now proprietor and executive chef of Ivan’s Cookhouse in North Miami Beach, which specializes in Caribbean-Asian fusion cuisine. His clients have included such notables as Lionel Richie, Pattie LaBelle, and P. Diddy. He was also presented with the keys to North Miami, Miami Dade County, North Miami Beach. His work has been featured on such TV shows as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives hosted by Guy Fieri, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Chopped, Season 11. When Dorvil found himself a winner on Chopped, he donated all his prize money to Haiti’s earthquake victims. And Dorvil seems to see a general healing power and fundamental strength in food. On the website for Ivan’s Smokehouse, he provides these words: “To me, life is fifty percent food and fifty percent love, neither of which should be less than perfect. Food + Love = Peace”.
( Photo credit: miamiherald.com)
Chef Jouvens Jean
Chef Jouvens Jean was born in Nassau, Bahamas to Haitian Parents who later sent him to Miami for a chance at a more successful life. Although he did not have the means himself to attend, Jean took note when one of his good friends entered culinary school. He developed his own interest in cooking by working in restaurants around Miami and up to such reputable establishments as Baleen Restaurant in Grove Isle Resort in Coconut Grove and the Conrad Miami in Brickell. He eventually landed at Sawa Lounge and Restaurant where he took on the role of Executive Chef and, along with his team, won Sawa the highly coveted 5 Diamond Award. Jean earned a Gold Medal at the Taste of the Caribbean festival and was a winner on Food Network’s Chef Wanted. Determined to share his success with the Haitian people, Jouvens also created The Chef Jouvens Foundation, which provides Haitian Children and youth with access to food and nutritional education, as well as expert culinary training. ( Photo credit: miami.com)
Natacha “Chef T” Gomez
Chef Natacha Gomez grew up in Cap Haitien, Haiti the daughter of restaurateurs. Her parents ran the restaurant Caille Toto, and, even as a kid, Gomez gathered her own friends together every week to enjoy her baked goods. She later attended the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Art and furthered her knowledge in all areas of cooking. Gomez has participated in several festivals around the world, including Montreal En Lumiere and Taste of Santo Domingo and has found a place on the Holland America Cruiseline. She has founded her own food business called Mini Delices, created her own line of products, and helped her parents open their second restaurant, Kokiyaj Market Bar and Grill. Seeking to support her Haitian sisters, Gomez founded the organization AFADEM (AKSYON FANM POU DEMEN MIYO ) (Women United for a Better Future), which, through training and empowerment, helps women find work. ( Photo credit: hollandamerica.com)
Chef Ron Duprat
Chef Ron Duprat grew up in Mare Rouge, Haiti with little money, but learned how to cook at his grandmother’s knee. His move to the United States was not an easy one as he traveled 27 days by boat before he finally landed on her shores. For culinary school he traveled to France where he received classic training in French cuisine at College Aimee Cesaire and La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine. He worked his way to such renowned establishments as Moca Cafe in Miami, the Montauk Yacht Club, and Pelican Bay in Naples, Florida. His clients have included Jay-Z and Beyonce, Usher, and Prime Minister Michel Martelly for whom he prepared an inauguration dinner. With early appearances on Top Chef: Las Vegas and then on Iron Chef, Bar Rescue, and Gone Fishing, Duprat may be considered the first of his fellow top Haitian chefs to bring Haitian cooking to wide television viewing audiences. Duprat was named a Culinary Ambassador for the US Department of State by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 and partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move” Campaign. Duprat also lends his efforts to the No Kid Hungry campaign in the U.S., while advocating for a sustainable food future for Haiti that is less reliant on foreign imports. Duprat is author of the book, My Journey of Cooking and is currently working on another book titled Life as a Black Chef in America.
( Photo credit: miami.com)
Chef Stephan Berrouet-Durand
Chef Stephan Berrouet-Durand was born and raised in Haiti, and his first major food memory is of his grandfather’s famous Christmas ham. During his high school years, he worked with his cousin’s catering company, and when he moved to Miami, he furthered his cooking education, attending Johnson and Wales University with his friend David Destinoble (mentioned above). With his own company, Durand Food Services, Durand went on to provide catering services to U.S. Air Force bases around the country. His accomplishments include a silver medal for his signature dish the “Paella Creole” (made with the “Djondjon” Mushroom indigenous to Haiti) at the Bolto Touristico del Caribe in Santo Domingo and the Haiti Minister of Tourism Honor and Merit for the continued promotion of Haiti’s Gastronomy. He currently heads the catering and culinary consulting company Culinary By Design, while being deeply involved in efforts to support and promote Haitian cuisine and culture. Along with Chef David Destinoble, Durand is co-founder of the Haitian Culinary Alliance and the creator of the premier Haitian food festival, Gout et Saveur Lakay, which has drawn the likes of Chef Thia and Chef Alain Lemaire and, in 2012, became a non-for-profit festival that donates its profits to culinary and hospitality education in Haiti. In addition, the festival is meant to provide a platform for the use and sale of local products.
Chef Sylva Senat
Chef Sylva Senat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but, following the death of his mother, moved to Brooklyn, New York to live with his father. In high school, his Home Ec teacher took note of his aptitude for cooking and encouraged him to enter culinary competitions. By way of these competitions, he met Richard Grausman, the founder of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), an organization which opened the doors to the culinary world for Senat. Through C-CAP, at just 18 years of age, he was granted an internship at renowned New York restaurant, Sign of the Dove. From there he worked at such poshe establishments as Aquavit, Buddakan, Jean-Georges, and finally as executive chef at Indian restaurant Tashan in Philadelphia. Though he never received formal culinary education, Senat’s mentors include such renowned chefs as Andrew D’Amico, Nils Noren, and Marcus Samuelsson who is the proprietor of Red Rooster in Harlem. Senat has competed on popular culinary TV shows Top Chef (Season 14), Chopped, and Recipe for Deception and recently opened his own restaurant, Maison 208 in Philadelphia. He remains involved in C-CAP, now serving as a mentor to young people seeking to enter the food industry.
( Photo credit: foodnewsfeed.com)
Chef Wilkinson “Ken” Sejour
Chef Wilkinson “Ken” Sejour was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents and grew up in Miami in Little Haiti where he worked at his grandfather’s seafood market. When his mother asked him and his brother Jude to decide between college and starting a business, the brothers opted for starting a business of their own with the support of their grandfather and friends. The Sejour brothers opened the first Chef Creole Restaurant in 1992, which would, following the unfortunate death of Jude Sejour, become a small chain of food joints serving up classic Haitian dishes. Chef Creole is frequented by such notables in the Hip Hop industry as Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled, Trina, and Rick Ross. Other clients include Jay-Z and Pitbull. Despite trouble with the law, Sejour has built up a mini empire for himself, including his own product line, and has been featured on major culinary TV shows including Travel Channel’s No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain and VICE’s Fresh Off the Boat with Chef Eddie Huang. He supports kids in his local community and in Haiti through the Little Haiti Optimist Club. (Photo credit: Pinterest)