Chef Stephan Berrouet Durand is hopelessly devoted to the craft of cooking. Whether attending culinary expos, personally managing Haiti’s food festival Gout et Saveurs Lakay, or concocting a culinary creation in the kitchen, Chef Stephan is the consummate professional.
Like most chefs of his stature, his career path included internships at major hotels, including Marriott and the DoubleTree. Following those initial experiences in the food industry, the master chef moved to Tampa, and afterwards to Utah, where he worked at U.S. Air Force bases as a chef. He later relocated to New York to further his career in the culinary industry.
In the late 2000s, he had triple bypass surgery—for him, a procedure that led to much self-reflection. A friend encouraged him to get a change of pace and environment, and this led to his move back to Haiti. Since his move there, he’s become a sort of one-man ambassador, proselytizing Haitian cooking gospel to the world. He’s been honored by Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism for his part in co-founding the aforementioned Gout et Saveurs Lakay, as well as his overall promotion of Haitian cuisine. His other honors include being selected as Culinary Ambassador for Chefs for Humanity. It’s important to the professional cooking school graduate that Haiti’s culinary industry continues to thrive. For that purpose, he co-founded Haiti Chefs for Education, an organization that supports aspiring culinary and hospitality professionals in Haiti. He also has a cooking show “BBQ Lakay” that airs on television stations in Haiti.
Indeed, Chef Stephan has been promoting Haitian cuisine to the world like there’s no tomorrow, but he’s also branding himself in the process. He has his own catering and culinary consulting company Culinary By Design, and has launched his very own product line ChefWorks.
Who was the best cook you knew growing up, the type who could make a gourmet meal out of water and grits?
My grandmother was an awesome cook, and I use to hang out in the kitchen all the time, but it never dawned on me that this would influence me. My fondest memory, however, is of my grandfather making his famous ham for Christmas.
At which point of your life, did you tell yourself, “You know, the idea of making a career out of this isn’t a bad idea.”
Well, it really never came. Things just sort of happen. During my last year of high school, I got introduced to cooking on a professional level when I did a couple of catering parties with my cousin—who is a chef. After graduation, I started my own catering business and all through college I would cook for friends and anyone who came to the house. But even then, It never dawned on me to make it a career. After three years of college classes, I went back to Haiti for a year to do hotel internship. When I came back, I saw a brochure about Johnson and Wales University. I had taken a lot of college classes and really had no career direction. I changed majors three times and finally was going nowhere. One day, I met up with a friend Chef David Destinoble heading to sign up at Johnson and Wales University. I figured that we were two young men going on an adventure. So we did. The only two Haitians at the time at JWU.
How would you describe your culinary style?
In all honesty, I love food. I love all types of food, and I like to mix flavors. My food is homey, its soulful, and has lots of flavors and [it’s] balanced. I like to use ingredients you find on the islands and in Latin America. Of course, I love the flavors I get from home. I love Haitian cooking.
Do you think that hours put in the kitchen is the best teacher? Or do you also advocate chef school attendance?
There is nothing like hours put in the kitchen. However, I think education is the beginning and the key to becoming a great chef.
Above: A Chef Stephan marvel…plantains with ceviche.
Every chef has his or her tools of preference, and their ingredients of choice. In your case…?
My chef knives go everywhere with me. My favorite Ingredient? Um, well…it’s a number of things. A good pimanbouk from Haiti, djon djon, are some of my favorite choices.
If you were giving a commencement speech to a group of graduating culinary students, what would be the main point that you would like to get across to them?
Love. Passion, dedication to your craft. If you don’t have those things, find yourself an easier career choice.
You are swiftly and surely turning yourself into a brand.
Well, I think in order for anyone to get to that next level of success, you have to become recognizable. I am working very hard for the name Chef Stephan to become a household name. But for me, the most important aspect of my branding is to be associated with something important, actions that help create change. If my work can help make a difference, than my brand has more value.
How can aspiring cooks get better at cooking?
Read. Study. Learn from others. Be a sponge—but most of all stay at it. Try new things.
Do you like watching cooking competitions on TV? What do you think is their appeal?
I love cooking shows, cooking channels and the Food network and “Top Chef”—I can’t get enough of it. It gives chefs an opportunity to be seen and show the world that it takes talent, hard work to be a professional in the kitchen.
Have you ever thought of doing something similar in Haiti?
Yes, it would be a great thing…very soon I hope.
And how can those who can work their way in the kitchen with their eyes closed polish themselves to be at four-star level?
Learn, learn and learn some more. You have to keep studying. Becoming a high level chef takes talent, skills—and most of all—knowledge about your craft.
What are some things you are hoping to check off your accomplishments list in the near future?
Wow…that’s probably one of the hardest questions I will have to answer. Keep getting better and polishing my craft. Spend a few months in Paris cooking. Continue my philanthropic work in helping Haiti to continue developing the industry. Be on “CHOPS”. [Laughter] That would be cool.
Be sure to visit Chef Stephan’s website! Click HERE.