A graduate of the Florida-based hospitality school Johnson and Wales University, Alain Lemaire lives for cooking. He’s a big fan of world cuisine, but he’s especially partial to Haitian cooking. On that end, he is a founding member and the Secretary General of the Haitian Culinary Alliance (HCA), an association whose mission is to assist food service, hospitality and culinary professionals of Haitian descent with educational and networking opportunities.
A native of Port-au-Prince, Lemaire is the co-founder and CEO of Sensory Delights, a firm that provides personal chef and catering services. One of Lemaire’s goals has always been to promote Haitian culture, and through Sensory Delights, and Soleil Entertainment—another company that he runs—he does just that. The latter company allows him to plan food-related events, as well as musical and theatrical events.
Did you get into cooking by watching your mom?
When I was growing up, I used to love following my mom to church functions—especially during the summer. They would cook so much and I was there tasting and paying close attention to the entire process which was so amazing to me at the time. That desire to replicate their work mixed with my love for food, pushed me to try on my own back home and use my friends as “test dummies”. To my surprise, I did well.
Some want to attend culinary schools, but are intimidated by the huge tuition tag. What would you recommend to people in those cases?
There are many alternatives to culinary schools. A college degree is very important but, if you can’t afford it, there are vocational schools, mentoring programs etc… I will always be honest by saying that you will 10 times out of 10, gain your knowledge and sharpen your skills in the field. All great chefs earned their stripes in the kitchen not in the classroom. It doesn’t matter if you had a 4.0 GPA, what will really define you is the real world.
Do you have some entrees of wisdom to give to aspiring chefs?
Honesty – Passion – Will – The main three key words to remember. Always be true to yourself and know who you are and what you want to become. Have goals with plans attached. It is not a walk-through—trust me. It is very laborious and most of the times, you barely get recognition for the hard work you put in. Still, I would never trade it for nothing in the world because it is “my passion”.
Do you enjoy baking?
The funny thing is, baking was one of the least favorite classes I took in culinary school. Baking is very intricate especially since you have to use the right measures, techniques and all. I am more of an eye and taste chef. Don’t get me wrong, I follow recipes and encourage people to do so because it helps with consistency. I enjoy eating the sweets more when my fellow baking chefs do them.
What’s the absolute best meal you’ve ever had?
Hum! Very difficult question. I must say that one of my top 5 favorite meals would be a slow braised short ribs with a truffled lobster mac and cheese with grilled garlic roasted asparagus. I am a food lover to the core and there are so many others I love but this one is up there.
When you cook something for yourself as opposed to having someone cook it for you, do you feel less satisfaction in terms of how you enjoy it?
I get more satisfaction in enjoying someone else’s dish then cooking for myself because I am still a student of the trade and I enjoy experimenting new twists and flavors. I still get satisfaction in eating my dishes because when I cook for myself, it is like an experiment on its own.
Do you tend to experiment a lot?
Yes, actually I do like to experiment a lot especially when it comes to cooking. I am always looking for new combinations: mixing and matching flavors. I love to challenge myself to be better, for my work to be better and my food to be better. I like to try things that no one else though of or even dared doing.
What do you wish you had done differently in your culinary career?
I never look at things as mistakes or missed opportunities. I look at them as lessons that I need to analyze and use in the future. We all slip at one point in life, what sets us apart is our willingness and ability to stand up and keep pushing.
In terms of upcoming trends, what have you noticed?
Wellness and the different types of diets such as the “paleo diet” which entire premise is to eat literally like a caveman: high protein, vegetables, and no carbs.
How do plan on widening your horizons?
As mentioned earlier, I am a student of the trade which means I am always learning. I attack everyday as if I had no knowledge: constantly reading, researching and working on my craft. I love to share and I have been blessed to work with some colleagues who believe the same way.
Chilled Shrimp and Salmon Salad
Yield: 4 – Cooking time: 5 minutes – Preparation and plating time: 30 minutes
– 4oz fresh, skin-off salmon
– 8 (16/20) shrimp peeled and deveined tail-off
– 1 avocado
– 1/2 red bell pepper
– 1/2 red onion
– 1 sprig of fresh thyme
– 1 sprig of fresh curly parsley
– Juice of 2 lemons
– Juice of 1 lime
– 1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper
– Salt and pepper to taste
Court bouillon: white wine, pepper cloves, parsley and thyme sprigs, bay leaves, lemon juice, fresh garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
1. Cook shrimp in court bouillon for approximately 2 to 3 minutes or until opaque. Do not let over cook or shrimp will be rubbery. Remove from liquid and chill quickly to stop cooking process.
2. Chop parsley and thyme (save a pinch full for garnish). Chop finely 1/8 of habanero pepper. Cut red onion, red pepper and avocado into dices. Combine all ingredients except for salmon and shrimp in mixing bowl and stir well until all is well coated. Adjust seasoning to taste.
3. Cut salmon into 8 – ½ oz rectangular-like portions.
4. Right before service, let salmon and shrimp marinate for 5 to 7minutes in mixture. Do not let over sit, otherwise Salmon will start cooking and change color and texture.
5. When plating, pour some of marinate over dish and serve cold. Garnish with remainder of thyme and parsley.
Fats: 30.2g – Protein: 39.5g – Sugars: 1g – Carbohydrates: 0 – Calories: 400 – Dietary Fiber: 11.1g