Interview,  Winter 20/21

Chef Alain Lemaire’s appearance on Food Network Chopped

Catching up with Chef Alain Lemaire after his aired appearance on Food Network’s Chopped Meat Fight.

There is not much introduction needed when it comes to the name Chef Alain Lemaire – truly a household name between the two countries; Haiti and The United States.

He is Co-owner and Executive Chef of two catering service companies; Sensory Delights Catering located in South Miami, Florida, and Arome Catering & Events located in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. And we can also proudly say that he is a consistent Contributing Editor and advisor for the Magazine.

Chef, you recently starred on Food Network Chopped Meat Fight. How was that experience? The experience was surreal, intense, and exciting at the same time.

This show was your second aired competition. You first competed on Food Network Cutthroat Kitchen some years back. How was this show different? Yes, I got the chance to compete on two very challenging shows. But, I would say that the difference between both is that Chopped requires you to use ingredients that you wouldn’t usually use in a dish. Chopped pushes you to think way outside the box while racing against the clock. 

Your face lit up with a smile after the host Ted Allen announced that Goat meat would be the main ingredient. What was the thought behind that expression? I’m a big fan of goat or any gamy meat altogether. We grow up in Haiti enjoying goat, so when I heard that it was the main ingredient throughout the challenge, it did make me smile. 

Ok, Bolo de Rollo. Was it your first time working with that ingredient? Have you since the competition used that ingredient in your cooking? It’s funny; I am familiar with it but not in a whole log form. I’m used to seeing it mostly in Brazilian stores with powdered sugar and a dulce de leche glaze. Since the competition, I haven’t had a chance to use it because it’s sweet, and since I don’t dab into that realm much. 

In the first round, your plating, to me, was the best. Can you explain why presentation is so essential in culinary? I firmly believe that cooking is an art, and as a chef, my responsibility is to showcase it at the highest level whenever I can. The visual aspect of cooking is crucial because we eat with our eyes and nose-first. What we see and what we smell will be the determining factors if we will proceed to eat or not. 

The entree ingredients in the third round were tough. You all got goat leg, cheese puffs, turnips, and baby formula [insert laughter]. And from that, you made a Pan-seared goat leg with cheese puffs and turnip with a cream. However, with the final product, you didn’t seem too happy. What would you have done differently? Yes, even the judges and host were like: “this has to be the toughest baskets we’ve ever seen.” As a Caribbean native, goat, especially legs or forequarters, are braised for hours. So, cooking it in less than 30 minutes was a major challenge. Nevertheless, I managed to put my best foot forward, but the pressure got to me, and I messed up my sauce. If there anything I would do differently, it would be spending more time on the sauce and better use for the fiery cheese puffs. 

You mentioned that you were interested in starting a safe-haven or an organization. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? The Black and the Caribbean communities don’t believe much in therapy, but we are some of the most affected communities. We deal with so much trauma, but we’re always told to suck it up, get over it, shrug it off.

When my dad was taken away from us six years ago, it became apparent that we don’t know how to deal with situations like these. I didn’t have anyone to talk to that would listen to how I was feeling. I didn’t have anyone to help me channel what I was feeling. So, this is where a safe-haven would come into place: that safe space where you can freely express what you’re feeling without being judged. 

Chef, I have shared with you and your family my deepest condolences. And again, here… because it’s never easy. I can assure you, no matter the length of time, it doesn’t get old either. I think a lot of your drive comes from that place.

Regarding Haitians and the unwillingness to seek help and guidance, this is especially true when it comes to mental health issues. We don’t believe in sharing our deepest feelings with our peers, friends, and family, because it makes us vulnerable in their eyes. So I know this will be a great advantage, to the Afro and Caribbean communities. Yet, there is some work needed to be done in re-educating that group of people.

In the third round, the ingredients were: goat cheese salami, goat cheese croquettes, lemon verbena, dragon fruit chips which the chefs had to use for a dessert – ingredients that don’t sound at all like dessert to me. What would you have made? Phew! Yes, the third round was more gruesome than the first two. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it but maybe a pudding since there are these creamy elements involved. 

After the show aired, you stated that you realized how much of a competitor you are and that you are addicted to competing. We hope to see you in the next competition soon. Hahaha, yes, I’m very competitive and never realized how much of a competitor I was. The pressure does something to you; it either breaks you or makes you shine. God willing, you’ll see me in the next one.

Chef, we are pleased to have you on the team. Also it is a privilege to have you for this interview.

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