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Kitchen Door Opens to Haitian Men

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Left to right: Randel Berha, Moses St. Louis, Jean Price Vixamar-Lucien and Ronald Glemaud at a men's cooking contest. (Nadege Fleurimond/Feet in Two Worlds)

Standing in the dimly lit kitchen of his one-bedroom apartment in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Ronald Glemaud added olive oil, onions and peppers to a sizzling fryer, preparing one of his famous breakfast meals.

“In Haiti the rule is simple," Glemaud, 47, said, "boys don’t belong in the kitchen.”

He was making “Morue ak banann,” a dish of codfish (morue) and plantains (banann).

Just 10 years ago, few Haitian males who thought it was acceptable for a man to cook. Most Haitian men go from being fed by their mothers to being fed by their wives. But for some, the move to the United States has shaken up the traditional structure.

“Marriage made a cook out of me, and divorce made me even better at the craft,” Glemaud said.

His plate of fish and plantains with a side of watercress featured subtle flavors, with thyme, scotch bonnet peppers and parsley co-mingling. The light tomato sauce was heavenly.

Glemaud is known as a master chef in his community. He gets questions such as “How do I get the rice and beans to be more red?” or “Any tips for getting rid of that funny smell from the goat?”

“His food is absolutely amazing. He has found a way to make all the dishes I hated as a child come alive for me,” said Gracie, one of Glemaud’s fans. “His mayi moulin, his famous cornmeal with mixed vegetables, is the best I ever had.”

The kitchen as an exclusively female domain is changing as Haitian men find themselves influenced by American culture. A few Haitian men have become celebrity chefs like Ron Duprat and Stephan Durand. It’s been a significant transition, for both male and female Haitians.

“My mother made it her business to ensure I did not enter the kitchen,” recalled Donald Toussaint, 42, who lives in Newark, N.J. and grew up in Haiti. 

“I loved going in there because there was always such good cheer, and camaraderie in the kitchen that I wanted to be part of the action. However, my mother said that this was not a place for boys,” Toussaint said.

“I never learned to cook. I never had to. My mother cooked and then my girlfriends and later wife cooked. I am almost sad at times I never learned because it is now my wish that I could cook my mother a meal the way she has cooked one for me all my life.”

At a cooking class in Tilden High School in Brooklyn, which has a large Haitian student body, the kitchen was filled with all types of young men.

As they sautéed vegetables and decorated their plates, they executed their culinary tasks with grace and meticulousness. The girls in the class generally did not demonstrate the same level of enthusiasm; perhaps young Haitian American women resent the assumption that women belong in the kitchen.

“I never learned to cook because I figured as soon as I learned, I would be doing it for the rest of my life,” said Cawalla Charles, a 25-year-old college student, said.

One married couple has redefined their roles with great results. Fabienne Blanchard is a Haitian immigrant who lives with her husband, Randel Berha, in New York City. They have been married 12 years with two children and both work full time.

 “The everyday cook is my husband,” Blanchard said. “I cook on special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Berha explained the distribution of labor: “While we both work hard, I realized that my work schedule allowed more time in the evening hours for me to cook dinner. It wasn’t an issue of a man or a woman thing. It just made sense.”

Berha has gotten so comfortable cooking that last year he even entered and won a men’s cooking contest on Father’s Day.

“My mango and beet salad is what I think gave me the edge in that competition,” he said with sheepish, yet proud, smile.

Red Snapper in Créole Sauce, by Ronald Glemaud

  • 2 lb. Red Snapper Fish Cleaned
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup Basil
  • 1 medium Onion (½ chopped ½ sliced)
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Parsley minced
  • 1 tsp. Thyme
  • Salt, black pepper, and hot pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup of White Vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (Optional)

Clean fish and ensure all scales are removed. Cut limes in 3’s. Squeeze juice of limes into a cup.

Use remaining lime shells, wash the fish. Rinse with cold water then pour in and wash the fish with the white vinegar. Place the basil, garlic, parsley, the ½ chopped onion and 4 tablespoons of oil in a blender and mix, adding ½ cup of water and previously squeezed lime juice.  (You may also simply buy Green Seasoning)

Take blended mixture or Green Seasoning and pour on top of cleaned fish. Ensure that fish is well coated with seasoning. Leave in refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.

In a sauté pot, on low heat, add 4 tablespoons of oil (canola, corn, or vegetable), then the tomato paste. Add your fish into the pot. Add remaining water, thyme and the optional whole scotch bonnet pepper.

Cover pot and let simmer for about 7 minutes.

Uncover pot and taste for salt and seasoning. If to your satisfaction, cover again and let boil another 8 minutes. Add the other ½ sliced onion and whatever missing ingredient your palate calls for and then let simmer for a couple more minutes. Turn off the fire, and let the pot cool off before serving.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundationwith additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.  Fi2W podcasts are supported by WNYC, New York Public Radio and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Contributors:

Nadege Fleurimond

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Comments [3]

Ronald Glemaud from Canarsie Section of Brooklyn NY

Leveque Toussaint, It is not a contest, my brother. Jean Randel Berha is my friend as is his wife, Fabienne. What the story speaks of, is the changing paradigm for immigrant men, especially those from the Caribbean islands, and from Central and South America, and their ability to adapt and adjust. Leveque, one of these days, I will get together with Berha and we'll prepare a small feast for our friends and families. You will not be left out, I promise.
I am a fan of "feet in two worlds" as well as a longtime listener of WNYC. I hope this story makes it to the airwaves. WNYC and Brian Lehrer, what say you?

Jun. 12 2012 11:18 AM
Colette from Miami, Florida

I loved your article very much and it reminded me of how much of an impact the American culture has had on our own as Haitians. Lots of us transplanted kids have had to learn to cook; male and female. I grew up in the states, and both my parents worked full time jobs, Dad worked three (I think he was a secret Jamaican!)and when we came back from school and finished our homework, we started dinner before Mom got home. At first, we kept it simple: rice, frozen vegetables. But as we got older, we tried different dishes, and experimented on each other. Not always with the best results, but my brother and sister were good sports nonetheless. My brother learned to make rice, and once you've got that down, the rest is cake.
I "invented" a few dishes myself: out of necessity and just using what was available in the 'fridge at the time. Anyway, I digress: thanks again for the great article, and please: how about some more recipes? One for akra would be GREAT!!

May. 29 2012 12:17 PM
Leveque Toussaint from New York

Forget about Ronald Glemaud. Jean Randel Berha is the best. Nobody should die before tasting one of Jean Randel's creations. Jean Randel is a proud Haitian American chef living in Brooklyn. Not to be confused with
John Randel who in 1808 meticulously drafted and executed the street grid plan for Manhattan. Nobody beats Jean Randel.

May. 26 2012 07:04 AM

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