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How This New England Chef Keeps His Haitian Heritage Going Strong

Cover Image for How This New England Chef Keeps His Haitian Heritage Going Strong
By Chris LaMorte
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Categories:Black History MonthFeatured

New Hampshire is a long way from Haiti, but thanks to chef Chris Viaud, it’s now a little closer. Viaud was recently named a James Beard semifinalist in the Emerging Chef category for his work at Greenleaf, a farm-to-table restaurant in Milford, New Hampshire, where he focuses on locally grown ingredients. But with his monthly pop-up event, Ansanm, Viaud also shares his family’s Haitian roots (and mom’s recipes) with the community.

Congrats on being named a James Beard semifinalist. Tell me a bit about your background.
I grew up in Randolph, Massachusetts, but we moved to New Hampshire when I was 16. I studied culinary arts and food service management at Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island. I worked in Boston at Deuxave, a French restaurant in the Back Bay, for over three years and consider it among my most formative experiences. I have also helped open four different restaurants in Massachusetts and New Hampshire before opening Greenleaf in 2019.

Can you describe your culinary approach at Greenleaf?
It’s a farm-to-table restaurant. We source our products from local farms right here in New England. We understand the importance and value of having local farmers grow in the area. Many farmers are doing amazing things here, so we do our best to tell their stories through our food. 

Ansanm celebrates his family’s Haitian roots, says chef Chris Viaud.

How did the idea for Ansanm come about?
Ansanm is the Haitian Creole word for “together.” My parents are from Haiti. They came to the U.S. as teenagers and met in college. I wanted to bring my siblings and parents together to learn more about our culture through food. I tell everybody that my mom is the star of the show; I’m just here to learn. All three of my siblings and both of my parents are involved in the restaurant. Occasionally, my wife and my brother’s wife also help out with these dinners. 

How has your Haitian heritage affected your culinary perspective?
My siblings and I grew up eating Haitian food, but as we entered our teenage years, we began gravitating towards things like pizza and turkey-and-cheese sandwiches. I have been getting back to my roots over the past few years. 

How has the reaction to Ansanm been?
At first, we planned to meet occasionally to post some videos and learn some of my mom’s recipes from when we were growing up. But, it naturally evolved into something a lot grander. We just celebrated our first anniversary. It was incredible to see the amount of support from the community. People have been willing to try food they have not experienced before and respect cultural differences. We all share the common belief that food is love, and food has its own language. We can resonate with each other through a plate of food.

Tell me about the upcoming “Taste of Haiti” dinner at Greenleaf. How is it different than Ansanm?
My goal with Ansanm was to have a deeper relationship with the flavors and food of Haiti. So with A Taste of Haiti, I was able to adapt that into modern interpretations of the dishes that I grew up eating. But even still, you’ll see how we represent Haiti’s history. For instance, we have Soup Joumou on the menu, which is a soup that Haitians were required to make for their French slave masters. Once Haitians gained independence, they began serving this soup as a way to celebrate freedom. Every year on the first of January, this soup is served all across the world by Haitians to acknowledge our history.

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