I had the opportunity to have a one on one with award winning chef, Stephan Berrouet Durand. Stephan whose culinary career started well over a decade ago is one of the well known chefs in the Island of Haiti and the United States. He’s traveled a lot of places and along the way acquiring a few new skills to implement in his menu. This interview was supposed to be a cooking segment however Stephan had prior traveling engagements so we’ve decided to give you a little intro and when he comes back we can move on with that cooking segment.
When I first meet you back in January 2007 you were doing marketing and branding, why the career change?
Yes, you sure did. I have a degree in communications and I decided to take a little break from my professional culinary career which actually started in 1999 to explore and discover the other aspect of what I had studied. When I completed my degree in communications at the University of South Florida in 2001, I really never thought that I would get into anything other than being a chef, but it has helped me quite a bit.
Do you think being a great chef is a natural talent, or is it something anyone can learn?
No being a great chef is not just about talent. It takes talent to be a good cook. It takes knowledge to be a great cook and to be a great chef, it takes leadership, business knowledge, culinary knowledge, and really have a deep understanding and passion for the art.
That would explain how your degree in communications helps. How do you define your cuisine?
I define my cuisine in many different ways. First and foremost I am a promoter of Haitian Gastronomy. What I try to do is to modernize and create synergies between the classics, the old and give it a new twist. I also think my cuisine is very Creole. I use flavors and ideas from places that have a similar cuisine from Haiti: Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Cuba ECT.
Tell us some of the famous people you’ve cooked for?
I have had the privilege of cooking for quite a few “Famous People” or Prominent People if you will: Governor Bush, Prime Minister of Haiti, President of Haiti, and Haitian Ambassador to Washington DC. You also have a few famous people who have eaten from me like Paul Garcon and others.
Is there a food that you hate to prepare?
No, not really. Cooking is my love, it’s my passion, so if I cook it it’s because I’m going to put all of me in it.
I know you’re Haitian American how has this influenced your cooking?
I am influenced by flavors all around me. Discovering soul food, I found out it has Creole roots from Africa and its relations with Haiti.
What kinds of ethnic food do you think are underrated right now?
I think Caribbean food in general has not taken its rightful place yet in the world of Gastronomy but it’s coming.
Has there ever been an ingredient that you weren’t able to master and have given up on?
No there has never been one yet and I don’t think there will ever be one. The whole fun about cooking is to discover the various uses of an ingredient. Knowing its origins, how its used in different cultures and in different cuisines.
You recently moved to New York City from Florida, was it for career reason?
Actually the move was from Haiti back to NY. Yes, it was a career move. There are some things I have yet to accomplish in my career and it was time to make that move. I also think my work in promoting Haiti’s gastronomy has a bigger audience and platform here.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever prepared, what was the occasion and why is it the most memorable?
Memorable meals, hmmm I have many. Every meal I cook has to be memorable; it has to leave the guest with a lasting impression. One of my most memorable meals has to be the food I prepared for the World Bank in DC. I really went all out in showing the versatility of what Haitian food is about.
If you could cook for and dine with anyone, who would that be?
If I could cook with anyone it would be a couple of my favorite Chefs: Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Eric Ripert to just name a few. If I could dine with anyone, hmmm there are so many but it would be with Chef Jacques Pepin or Alain Ducasse.
Have you ever thought of releasing a cook book?
Oh, absolutely. I hope to be working on this project very soon. I may end up releasing an online cookbook of some of my signature dishes and after releasing the cookbook.
If I handed you a fish and allowed you only one ingredient to cook it; what would that ingredient be?
Lime and I hope salt would not count. The fish would have to be fresh of course, simply on the grill, and a squeeze of lime juice once it’s ready. You would be taste the natural flavors of the fish, and just really enjoy that.
What are some of the things you’d like to do other than anything cooking-related?
I enjoy playing Billiards, camping, spending time with my son.
Do you travel and see things in other cuisines, in other countries, that might interest you?
I love to travel, i love to discover new cuisines, new flavors and see how I can incorporate them in my own dishes.