From Lalo with Beef to Calalou “Gombo”: A Q&A with Chef Alain Lemaire to Find Out
What’s Up with Haitian Cuisine
GR: Tell us about your background – Where you grew up and at what age did you discover your love of cooking?
I was born and raised in Port-au- Prince, Haiti. My parents built a house in Delmas and we moved there when I was 10. I started playing around in the kitchen at an early age, maybe around 7 or 8 just out of curiosity and sheer desire to feed myself and friends. The passion didn’t come along not until later when I was maybe 16.
GR: What or who first inspired you to step into the kitchen?
I didn’t grow up with a mentor or inspiration per se. If I were to say someone inspired me, I would say it was my mom and the other ladies I grew up around. No one literally held my hands or guided me in the kitchen. I learned the majority of the things I knew at the time from observation and duplication.
My style of cooking which is reflected in my catering business is international cuisine with a Caribbean flair. I love to recreate your traditional or your everyday dishes from various countries and add some major twists to them. The whole idea is to incorporate the flavor profiles and the flairs you would pick up in the islands, especially Haiti, in each dish. A good example would be a griot dumpling with a sour-orange soy glaze and bamboo shoot pikliz. This is a pure fusion of Haitian and Asian Cuisine/Flavors (HaiSian). I don’t have a favorite dish that I like to cook. Au contraire I have a favorite food category/type which is seafood.
GR: What difficulties or challenges have you encountered throughout your career?
Can I be totally honest and open? Well, I am Haitian, and I have an accent. That alone was the source of some major challenges I had to encounter. The industry has been for a long time dominated by white males. So you can understand that no matter how talented you were or the amount of knowledge you had, you didn’t matter.
A friend of mine, Saruh, said in her book “Behind the Kitchen Doors”: “when you walk in most kitchens, the further you go in, the darker it gets.’ And that is the honest truth. Things have changed these days, just a little but it doesn’t mean it stopped. So I had to prove to the culinary world, and even more to myself that I belonged as much as anyone else, if not more. I have been using that fuel as motivation for the last 16 years and I haven’t stopped yet.
Hmmm, there are so many. But if I could narrow it down for a first time visitor, I would say try the real “fritay”. Not that watered down, commercialized thing you find state-side. Go to Kenscoff or Montrouis just to name a few.
GR: What dish would you recommend for an experienced traveler that wanted to take their Haitian culinary experience to the next level?
For an experienced traveler, try some lalo with beef, crab, shrimp or calalou gombo. Go to the local bakeries and try our sweets, I mean try them all!
GR: How has traveling changed your perception of the world and the people in it? How has it affected your tastes or the dishes you create?
First of all, you cannot be in this industry and not be well versed or opened to experience dishes from different cultures. You will be a one dimensional cook. I have been fortunate enough to travel since I was two. So I was always around people from different backgrounds and cultures. Now, traveling from the perspective of a chef has played a huge part in my life and career. It opened the doors to experience food from a different perspective, the doors to a plethora of flavors, the doors to change my view of food, the use of flavors and ingredients. Thus playing a major role in my style of cooking.
GR: What part of the globe is at the top of your wish list to visit? What are you most looking forward to eating there?
Asia has to be top of my list, bar none. The entire continent, every single country China, Japan, Korea, Philippines etc… There is something about the food, the culture, and the people that is so captivating and fascinating. I would love to spend an entire summer touring, learning and cooking over there.
GR: Please tell us about your upcoming projects and where our readers can find you.
I will be at the Taste of Dallas in Dallas Texas from June 3rd to 5th. I will be the guest chef at a popup dinner in Atlanta
“When you walk in
most kitchens, the
further you go in, the
darker it gets.”
And that is the
Georgia on June 26.
Brooklyn is on the horizon for July but nothing set in stone yet. And I am praying that the second season of the cooking show “Le Chef” out of Haiti comes out during the summer. I am currently working on a Culinary e-book, and continuing my cooking shows on YouTube.
GR: Thank you for allowing Griots Republic to feature you in our Haiti Issue. Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Thank you for the interview, means a lot to be able to share a little about myself with the readers. Final thought has to be “believe in yourself.”
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For more information about Chef Alain Lemaire and his catering and consulting company, or television appearances please visit