Top Chef fans are already familiar with Chef Chris Viaud, a contestant on the television show’s 18th season. The James Beard-nominated chef owns and operates Greenleaf, a restaurant in Milford, New Hampshire that focuses on locally-sourced ingredients. Chef Viaud’s latest project is Ansanm, a pop-up Haitian restaurant inspired by his family and heritage.
Beyondish recently spoke with Chef Viaud to learn more about Haitian cuisine, the dishes on Ansanm’s menu and his hopes for the future.
Why did you decide to start a Haitian restaurant?
After filming Top Chef, I had to think about what I was going to do next. I wanted to focus on the food of my culture and heritage and how I can translate that into what I’m cooking today. Ansanm is my interpretation of what Haitian cuisine is, in a fine dining way, with beautiful plating and classic French techniques.
When I started, I didn’t have very much knowledge about what Haitian cuisine was all about, so I had a phone call with my parents and got my siblings involved. We wanted to preserve our heritage and appreciate the food we grew up eating.
How would you characterize Haitian cuisine?
Haitian cuisine is filled with love and a rich history. It has bold flavors, bold in the sense of coming from stewed hearty dishes, and bright flavors from the citrus that is prevalent in the country. Lots of dishes are slow cooked to break down the proteins in meat or the vegetables and provide warmth. There’s a bounty of rice, beans and cornmeal.
What dishes best exemplify Haitian cuisine?
Griot, one of our staple dishes [at Ansanm], is marinated fried pork that is often served with rice and plantains — the majority of Haitian dishes are served with rice and plantains. Other dishes are poule nan sós, which is chicken and Creole sauce, and diri kolé, the national dish of Haiti, which is made with rice and beans. Pikliz, which is a spicy cabbage slaw with pickled cabbage and Scotch bonnet peppers, is what we use as a garnish to add spice.
It’s hard to talk about Haitian cuisine without mentioning Soup Joumou, or freedom soup. It’s eaten on the 1st of January to celebrate Haitians gaining independence from the French.
What kind of feedback have you been getting from the community?
There’s been a need or desire from those who want to experience Haitian cuisine. We’ve been incredibly blessed to see the support and feedback — many of our guests are repeat customers. We’re offering something completely different than other restaurants around.
Looking to the future, what are you most excited about?
For me, the biggest thing is learning more of the cuisine of the African diaspora and focusing on how I can incorporate Hatian cuisine and cuisines from different African nations into what I do. I want to dedicate my time and energy to learning about the food of my people.
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