Not Haitian? Doesn’t matter. Taste of Haiti welcomes all for bonding over food, shared histories

Eunyoung Lee, from Saint Louis, left, and Jae Won Lih, from Vero Beach, get a sampling of Haitian foods from Marthe LaFrance-Lubin, a chef with Leela's Restaurant, during the Taste of Haiti festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art plaza in North Miami, Saturday, May 11, 2013. The free event featured live music and scores of vendors of food, arts, crafts, and more.

Taste of Haiti, the popular Haitian Heritage food festival now celebrating its fifth consecutive year, is expanding to Miami-Dade College North Campus after years at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.

Event founder and chef mastermind behind Taste of Haiti, Stephan Durand, said the festival is a great opportunity to bring people together over the love of food, while bridging curiosities about culture and shared histories.

Durand spoke with Miami.com just ahead of Taste of Haiti, which will take place at its new venue from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 13.

People are what make culture. It’s not politics. And once you get to know people, you discover something. It becomes an amazing experience and that’s what I want people to come check out.

It’s no surprise that Taste of Haiti has gained in popularity over the years, especially considering its celebrated during Haitian Heritage Month. But why the move?

We’ve been doing this in partnership with the City of North Miami for four years. We definitely wanted to keep it in the city, but we needed a bigger space. We needed a place where we could target a bigger, more diverse crowd. Miami-Dade County came at the right moment and offered us a space in partnership with Miami-Dade College.

What was the inspiration for Taste of Haiti?

We wanted as an organization to create an event where all the different aspects are celebrated, but primarily food because we are chefs. The beautiful thing about food is that you cannot talk about culture or a country’s heritage without food. One of the things that sort of carries over when a population leaves and goes somewhere is they bring their food with them. We’re very fortunate in the Haitian community to have three different festivals that celebrate our culture: we have a soccer tournament and we have a konpa fest that celebrates music which is very unique to our culture. And this last aspect, which is food.

This was the perfect festival to complete that circle. We want to show the best of what Haiti has and that’s what we focus on.

I think it’s safe to say Taste of Haiti has two audiences — people of Haitian descent and others who are not Haitian. How do you cater to these groups?

Taste if Haiti is a celebration of culture being that it’s part of the Haitian Cultural Heritage Month celebration and the celebration of the creation of our flag. Obviously its geared toward the Haitian community and for them to feel like they have a festival that offers all the different aspects of our culture which include music, bands and some of the games like dominoes and arts and crafts.

The event is called Taste of Haiti but the idea of creating an event like this is not solely for the Haitian community. It’s also to show the rest of the community of South Florida to be able to share our culture with them and some of things we have in common.

First, we want people to come and discover. If you want to know about Haitian culture, if you’re curious and want to know more than what you’ve heard through the media or the negative portrayal you’ve seen about Haiti, Taste of Haiti is a good place to come. A lot of people when they hear about Haiti or Cuba or Venezuela or other places that have had political issues, they forget there are people there. There are some amazing things to discover beyond that curtain of negativity.

People are what make culture. It’s not politics. And once you get to know people, you discover something. It becomes an amazing experience and that’s what I want people to come check out.

You mentioned similarities among cultures represented in South Florida. What commonalities do Haitian food have with other groups>?

Haiti is part of a family that we call Kreyol cuisine. The other members of the family include the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Louisiana because there is a similarity. There are deep African roots into the way we cook and obviously the influence of other countries, as well. In the Haitian case, we have both Spanish and French influence.

All of these influences create an amazing cuisine. If you look at the ingredients that are used in Haitian cuisine, you will notice them also in Cuban cooking and cooking from the Dominican.

But the difference is we [Haitians] tend to have a very seasoned [palate] but we also like a little bit of kick a little bit of heat. Cuban cuisine does not have a lot of heat. There are similarities in the spices we use, too: garlic, thyme.

What other common threads are there?

We have not only food in common, but we have history in common. If you take a look at Haiti’s history, there’s a big relationship between Haiti and Cuba and Haiti and the Caribbean and Latin America. And that’s what we should celebrate, is not our political differences, but our histories and culture.

A lot of South Floridians are familiar with Haitian grio and pikliz and even kremas during tho holidays. What other Haitian dishes should visitors to Taste of Haiti be on the lookout for?

There’s a special calalou gumbo. Whenever we talk about gumbo in Kreyol cuisine we talk about okra. Louisiana [also] has it’s own. Our version is made from Djon djon, which is a black mushroom that is grown specifically in the wild in Haiti. It’s usually found dry and it’s very pungent and that’s how we make our gumbo.

We have our own version of collard greens called lalo that we prepare with blue crab and pork. It is delicious.

Taste of Haiti will also feature a gourmet cook-off in its VIP tent. There guest can enjoy five to six unique dishes prepared by local celebrity chefs. Specialty rum cocktails from Haiti will also be available.

IF YOU GO

When: Saturday, May 13
Time: 3 to 10 p.m.
Where: Parking Lot 2 at Miami-Dade College – North Campus 11380 NW 27th Ave, Miami 33167
More: www.tasteofhaitiusa.com/

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