Jonise Sainvil will never forget the day she had her first bite of Jude Dambreville’s food. They were both active members of the Haitian Cultural Club of Tallahassee while in college in Florida and during one of the events for the club, he would announce food sales at his house over the weekend. One day, true to her word, Sainvil stopped by one Saturday and purchased a plate, and fell in love with his cooking.
“I’ve never had a dish or dessert made by Jude that I just didn’t like,” Sainvil affirms. “His food is just that good! My favorite dish as of last Labor Day was his conch—lambi. I’m picky about eating other people’s conch but his was seasoned and cooked just right.”
“Just right” is one of those phrases people use to describe Dambreville’s exquisitely-prepared dishes. Sometimes they go further describing it as “too good”, “the best”; other times they’re speechless.
Sainvil sees Dambreville as a chef who will get more than local recognition. He’s definitely a professional on the rise, she contends, and one who will no doubt become world famous. “It’s one thing to know how to cook and another to be passionate about cooking,” she says. “Jude continues to exemplify his passion for cooking on a regular. He’s always planning social gatherings with family and friends because cooking is what he loves to do. Oh, and I cannot forget the baking! His cakes are delicious.”
Benny Jacques, who grew up in New York with Dambreville—but didn’t get to know him until the two moved away for college—echoes similar thoughts. He received an invitation from the seasoned chef during their college years and accepted. “He cooked the most authentic Haitian meal poulè du ak diri kole,” Jacques recalls. “It was savory, flavorful and fresh. Not every Haitian born in the United States can cook a Haitian meal like my mother, grandmother, or aunts. Jude puts his own signature touch in all his dishes. The fact that he can make chicken tastes so good, gets me every time. I eventually adopted the recipe, but I can’t nearly make it as good.”
Already, Dambreville is growing his brand beyond his inner circle. He caters events for a growing clientele. Name a social event, and he’s done it: communion, baby shower, bridal shower, wedding, among other events. Word has spread regarding his abilities and to accommodate his customers, he’s set up an online store to sell his signature kremas, a coconut-lime, pina colada-like drink—only better.
Gary Anselme first heard of Dambreville via the social network Twitter and was persuaded enough by the raves of one of his contacts on that social platform to order a bottle of Dambreville’s kremas from the Chef Zoe website. I ordered kremas. “The holidays were fast approaching and my folks were coming for dinner. I wanted to surprise them with Kremas since they had not had some in quite a while.”
And what did Anselme think? “The kremas was excellent. I should have ordered two or a larger bottle. The family and I enjoyed it very much.”
Word of mouth is taking Dambreville and his venture to new heights and is introducing non-Haitians like African-American and New Jersey resident Carl Crum Jr., to try their hands at Haitian foods and products. Crum befriended Dambreville through a mutual friend and was intrigued enough by what he had seen and heard to support the Chef Zoe brand. “I ordered the kremas in every flavor from his website,” Crum gushes. “They arrived in a timely manner and they were really good…Every flavor was awesome. I even shared with my friends on social networks about his products. I can’t wait to support him further in the future.”
Dambreville, who returned to New York after earning a degree in the Culinary Arts from Keiser University and is currently based there, discussed his love of cooking, baking and his expanding business empire.
Q & A
Where did this love of cooking originate?
My love for cooking started at a very early age. I always loved watching my mother cook as a kid and help her stir the pot. “When she let me” Around the age of nine, I started playing around with foods, flavors and cakes while my mom would be at work and I haven’t stopped ever since.
What advice do you have for new cooks?
If I have a bit of advice for new chefs and cooks, it would be to never limit yourself. Always think out of the box and don’t be afraid to try new things.
And seasoned cooks who want to take it to the next level?
My advice to seasoned chefs would be to look up new and happening recipes and foods. Also after learning new methods of cooking, fuze them with your original style and see what magic you can create.
What’s the best thing about being a caterer?
To me the best thing about being a caterer is seeing my food being the highlight of someone’s event and having strangers fall in love with my food. It puts the biggest smile on my face.
Do you remember the first time you catered a party?
I remember the first time I catered an event. I was in college and it was for an organization on campus I was in: The Haitian Cultural Club of Tallahassee. They gave me a budget and freedom to cook whatever I wanted. Oh I had a blast giving them authentic Haitian food. Everything went very smoothly and everyone loved the food.
Now, with your business venture Chef Zoe, you basically have e-commerce set up.
It took me a while to get with the times and start my e-commerce business. My friends have always told me I’m like an old man when it comes to technology. It’s coming along and I love it. It’s given people all over the country access to my products and given me new customers that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Do you find yourself wanting to do more of the cooking and less of the business part?
I always find myself wanting to do more of the cooking. I’ve always been a back of the house kind of guy. Paperwork and Chef Zoe just don’t get along, but I’m getting better as time goes on.
What’s the best meal that you’ve ever had in your life?
It’s hard to say what is the best meal I’ve ever had in my life, but If I have to choose something…It would have to be my mother’s black rice and stewed conch—lambi. I have eaten lambi from so many different people and no one can make it like my mother.
Are you related to the famous painter Claude Dambreville?
I’ve never met Claude Dambreville, but from what my mother explained to me, the Dambreville name belongs to one family in Haiti and France. We have such a large family, so we don’t all know each other. But the original Dambrevilles that migrated from France five generations ago lived in the south and every Dambreville I’ve met has ties to the south. So I’m guessing we are family. [Laughter] That was a mouth full.
What’s next for Chef Zoe Dambreville?
I have so many plans for my myself and my catering business in the near future. I can’t quite say what’s next, but I would love to expand my kremas brand internationally and maybe even open a restaurant in Haiti.
What would you say are the most important, most vital ingredients to cooking?
This might sound cliche or weird to some people, but I think the most important ingredient in cooking is love. If you take your time with your food and add love to it, it’s bound to be greatness.
You bake as well. What should beginning bakers know?
I do also bake and if I were to give advice to new bakers, it would be practice makes perfect. Baking is an exact science, so it’s good to do it over and over and over again until you get the hang of it. Oh and have fun with it! Baking is a craft most people can’t do, so make it your own.
What have you learned as an entrepreneur that you’d like to pass on to others?
As a young entrepreneur I’ve learned so much…I’ve learned its always good to be educated and well informed about the line of business that you’re in. I’ve also learned that its okay to make mistakes, because you’ll learn from them and find the best ways of doing things.