It’s not so much that Elle Philippe, aka Chef Elle is a mango expert; it’s just that she’s devoted to food and with talent and flare, she masters marrying tastes and textures together. And, she loves mangoes.
“My grandparents had a farm in Leogane,” the Port-au-Prince native explains. “I had a great childhood. We’d visit every summer. My brothers and sister and I would have a contest: who could collect the most mangoes.”
With a dreamy look in her eyes she’d list their finds–Madame Blanc, Fil, and Corne, ” mentioning just a few of the 140 varieties of mangoes grown in Haiti. “Oh, Muscat! They’re so fragrant, so tasty.“ Raving, she sums it up; “There is nothing better than a Haitian mango! ”
Here in the Big Apple, green grocers and sidewalk vendors are now prominently displaying their selection of mangoes, particularly identifying Haitian mangoes. It’s Haitian mango season for these fleshy–yellow when ripe, kidney bean shaped delights.
The variety Madam Francique (Madam Francis or Francine) is the only mango exported from Haiti and from the streets of Jamaica, Queens to the precisely placed displays of Whole Foods to the shops in Flatbush, it is the only type you can get in New York.
Chef Elle is taking full advantage. For the last two weeks, the chef has been on a mango marathon.
She has concentrated a lot on salads, bringing the sweet and melting texture of the mango to a variety of salad fixings. Her octopus salad adds the seafood to mixed greens over a bed of medium sliced mangoes with a shallot white balsamic vinegar dressing.
One afternoon she made two vegan salads, one, seared tofu over a layer of mangoes topped with mesclun–young salad greens and a vinaigrette dressing, the other was the same replacing the tofu with sautéed shitake mushrooms.
In another dish, she layered puff pastry with a few cilantro leaves over the sliced mangoes topping it with fried sea bass and a handful of mesclun greens and a mild jalapeño dressing.
In addition to mango jam and mango salsa–served alongside grilled chicken, she’s created mouth watering desserts like baking small mango empanadas and mango napoleons.
But, the piece-de-resistance is her mango sorbet, made with an ice-cream maker. Her first go was an eye-popping palette cleansing cool mango treat enhanced with almond extract. She then mixed mango and ginger. In another “to die for” batch, she churned up a mango sorbet with Haitian Barbancourt rum.
The kitchen of Chef Elle will continue to see mangoes in the upcoming weeks, “I’m going to cook duck ala mango, and a mango chutney.” With a glint in her eyes, she taunts,” I’m also looking forward to savory mango dumplings.”
The public will be able to meet the Chef, hear about her journey in food, watch simple demonstrations of her artistry and sample some of her tasteful dishes when she speaks at 6:00 p.m. on May 31 at Five Myles Gallery, 558 St. John’s Place, (suggested donation).
As part of Haiti Cultural Exchange’s monthly series, “We Speak”–An’n Pale, that evening will also feature some more traditional Haitian foods prepared by the culinary artist. Accra–malanga, sweet yellow plantain (banann pleze) and chiktay moru–a cod appetizer will also sampled. haiticulturalx.org/program-05.
What about all those mangoes that Chef Elle collected as a kid? “With a djakout (woven straw satchel), we’d collect 10 to 15 mangoes. After we ate our fill, our grandparents would send us off to the road where we’d set up a stand–like a lemonade stand–and sell them for pennies.“
The Haitian mango season is in its prime for about two months.