Having been a caterer & event planner for the past 6 years, I have learned there’s one sure way to make anything fun, anywhere, anytime: FOOD! My love affair with food is not so much in eating it, it’s more so with the experience of seeing how everyone enjoys it. Through these columns, I hope to cultivate in you this very same love affair, if it does not already exist. If you already possess this love of eating, dining, cooking and entertaining, I will ask you to delve deeper and learn more. I ask you to share with me your food experiences in order that I can learn more. Through these pieces, anecdotes and recipes, I want us all to take our palates on a culinary journey never imagined. So sit back, grab some wine or a nice glass of Jus Citron with vanilla and enjoy!
Spicing it Up!
Being of Haitian descent, it took me a very long time to understand that Haitian food was not the only thing allowable to my palate(I know, I know, hard to believe, but yes, we will not die if we eat non- Haitian foods. Please do test this theory at home or out).The thought of eating a baked chicken breast sickened me until I was about 17 years old. You mean to tell me people eat this piece of fleshy white meat? With hardly any seasoning??? No way! People don’t eat sweet things with salty things, do they? Pineapples on Ham? Ki bagay sweet and savory sa? American food- for that matter all food non-Haitian- seemed like an insult to my taste buds and palate. But that would change. It would change with a new friend extending a meeting at a local Korean Restaurant. It would change with visits to Mexico, South Africa and the Bahamas. It would change with Kwanzaa potlucks in the dorms. It would change with my fondness, and downright obssession with the food network.
As I started to expand and broaden my knowledge of cooking, I realized a shocking truth; I like this stuff. I liked non-Haitian cuisine! I have to admit, I felt a twinge of guilt when my voice could no longer echo in the litany of complaints to american food being san gou.
With this new found appreciation also came a shocking reality. Yes, I enjoyed the southern fried catfish, but it sure could use a little piman. And, oh my god, that wild rice pilaf tastes amazing, but, it would taste a whole lot better with some djon djon. Wait, I do love me some of that chicken soup, but a little thyme wouldnt hurt at all. It became very apparent, as much as I had grown, adopted, assimilated to these other food cultures, my heart was still home. Nothing could beat the balance of flavors in Haitian cuisine. That du riz avek sos pwa blan with poul du still hold my heart.
Hence, I made a clear decision as I plunged deeper into the world of the culinary arts: I wanted to retain my Haitianess(for the purpose of this piece, yes, that is a word). I knew I loved the flavors and textures Haiti and the Caribbean in general had to offer. I knew I enjoyed the variety of herbs and spices. I enjoyed the freshness that was embodied in all our dishes. I appreciated the togetherness that revolved around food in our culture. With that said, I also wanted to change the things I did not so appreciate. I thought our food was too limiting. It was rare to go 2-3 weeks of eating without repeating a meal. I thought some of the food took too long to prepare. Often, I found many aspects of our food unnecessary and even unhealthy(such as overcooking/overfrying). I found us limiting in the presentation of our food. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Griot , the fritay and the tassot, but I just knew there had to be more. If there was not more, I decided I would create more!
And through my imagination, research and commitment to this love affair I had with food, I indeed created the more. I found ways to broaden my food horizon keeping Haiti and it’s textures, colors, and flavors as my foundation. I learned there are ways to get the flavor without the excessive oils, butter and frying that often ran rampant in our pots. I discovered that griot does not have to be eaten on a plate. While the Americans are enjoying their chicken kabobs, I too can have my meat on a stick. I can have my griot kabob. I can have my griot kabob with my spicy pickled cabbage dip (recipe to follow next issue). I discovered that my soup joumou does not have to be drunk in a bowl. I can present it in a pumpkin shell or some other gourd. Even more, I learned, that I can take that regular, boring, american style chicken breast, and make it into a magnificent Haitian inspired entrée by simply adding my epis from my pilon. So instead of my usual 5-7 meal rotation, I now had hundreds. The discovery was quite liberating I must say. And my guilt was alleviated. I did not want to abandon the Haitian way, I simply wanted to create a cultural exchange on my plate. And through doing so, I did something even more magnificent;I intensified my love affair.
Hopefully you too will be inspired to expand your cooking repertoire. These articles, issues, and recipes are here to awaken your senses, inspire your imagination, and get you in the mood to get into your own kitchen and develop something great. And if the inspiration happens the way it should, hopefully you will invite some friends over and share in the magic that is food. And together, your love affair with this thing called FOOD can too flourish.