By Bianca Silva
When Best Dressed Plate organizer Nneka Nurse looked into holding an event paying homage to Caribbean cuisine, she decided to make a big leap.
“It came to me. ‘Where are you going to do it Nneka?’ and I said to myself: ‘You know what, it makes sense. I’m going to try the United Nations (UN) because the United Nations is a place of the meeting of all of the nations coming together and what better way to do that than through food, the universal language.’”
For three days, the United Nations hosted the Caribbean Holiday Guest Chef Series where chefs representing Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas showcased their food to UN dignitaries.
Jamaica was first on Wednesday followed by Bahamas on Thursday with Haiti closing out Friday. With Haiti, Nurse explains why she chose to display their cuisine on the last day.
“Closing with Haiti was really something near and dear to me,” she said. “I feel it’s a cuisine that hasn’t really had the opportunity to get placed on a platform. I specifically made sure that I had Haiti and that I closed with Haiti to give them some additional exposure and it did.”
Nurse later added: “It was the biggest turnout and people were extremely satisfied with the food.”
Chef Cherven Desauguste and Chef Ash, who represented Haiti, were selected by Nurse for their commitment to produce cuisine that evokes a sense of family and togetherness in addition to their twists on staples like soup joumou (squash soup), griot (fried pork) and soursop creme brulee that are packed with bold, aromatic flavors.
For Chef Desauguste, owner of Mesob, an Ethiopian and Caribbean restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, participating in the event allows the opportunity to showcase the cuisine beyond cities with large Haitian populations like New York and Miami, in addition to debunking the myth that Haitian food is too spicy for the average palette.
“In the Midwest where I’m from right now, it’s not known and that’s the thing that I want to change,” he said about Haitian food. “Other chefs as well want to show the people that ‘hey, Haitian cuisine is not about spiciness.’”
Chef Ash, an entrepreneur and private chef, also believes that Haitian cuisine deserves to be properly represented on a bigger platform to people who may be afraid of trying it.
“Our culture is mixed with French, Hispanic, and I feel people don’t really have an input of what it’s like to be Haitian, especially the food because they think it’s really spicy and juicy,” she said. “Today, we want to show them what Haitian food is about. It’s not always very spicy, very juicy. It can be healthy as well.”
Although not every Caribbean country was able to showcase their food at the UN, Nurse hopes to feature more Caribbean cuisine in the future.
“After everyone came,” she said, “it was more so not: ‘well, why wasn’t this country [represented]’ it was more: ‘I can’t wait until the next time [because] I know my country will be featured.”