Anticipation percolated. On a pre-Thanksgiving, weekday night, they packed Colors Restaurant. It was the awaited launch of “Haiti: Uncovered,” Nadege Fleurimond’s “regional adventure into the art of Haitian cuisine,” part cookbook, part travel book that should reside on your coffee table.
It has been quite a journey and exploration for the author who made food preparation and presentation her life since her Columbia University days where she majored in political science.
With one book behind her — a cooking memoir — and years with her own catering business, she decided it was time for a book rooted in Haiti.
Divided into parts of a meal–beverages, main dishes, desserts, etc., Nadege has chapters focusing on parts of the country that her three trips to Haiti took her. The journey is illustrated with the photos.
Paul Corbanese and his wife Claudine — the two spearhead the rebuilding of the earthquake-damaged Musee d’Art of Port-au-Prince — were among the rsvps who purchased a copy.
Paul, the cook in the family, was enthralled. The recipe for “pentad neg maron ak kalalou” from Gonnaives, guinea fowl in mushroom sauce and okra with small black “djon djon” mushrooms caught his eye.
In a conspiratorial tone, Paul later commented, “ The secret behind the Dous Makos (a confection recipe in the dessert section) is in the open.” (The story goes that Madame Makos created it, living in the Petit Goave region of Haiti, and died taking the recipe with her.)
Claudine is equally as excited by what she expected to be just a cookbook of Haiti recipes.
“The real surprise is that the book is more: it combines history and folklore, geography and recipes, language and wisdom,” she said. “It’s full of facts, anecdotes, and personal stories that makes it rich and fascinating.”
As for the recipes, the traditional “pwason gwo sel” (fish in spiced clear broth) is one she wants to try.
Another traditional dish in the book is “tchaka” made with red beans, corn, herbs, and smoked beef or turkey, (and as some Haitians say, whatever else you have in the kitchen.) Served at the book-release event, more liquid was added to the basic recipe and on the coldest night of the week, friends and fans enjoyed hot tchaka-inspired soup.
The author looked for “everyday cooking” during her research. She wanted to know what do the “people” eat and when do certain foods come into play.
She observed that, with only slight variations, many dishes are the same, north to south. On the other hand, she adds, “the north doesn’t use coconut, but the south uses it a lot.”
Cities with the most distinct cooking cuisines? Distant Jeremie has “pisket,” little fish sautéed with rice or roots and “tomtom,” mashed breadfruit and okra.
“The people in Okap (Cap Haitien) use cashews for everything,” she says.
“This is not the complete book of Haitian food,” Nadege emphasizes, I am she is sharing my personal journey.”
Moved by the book, once seeing it, former model, artist, mother Jany Tomba bought two copies — one she pre-ordered for her daughter and, impressed by the quality, she bought one for herself.
“This is a heritage book. Changes are destined to happen in Haiti and these things (in the book) will be gone. This book is capturing this moment in time.”
The day following the launch, Nadege loaded up her van with boxes of books and traveled to Boston to attend a book release in Cambridge, a guest of the Haitian Students Alliance of Harvard. On Dec. 4, she will be at the School of International Affairs at American University, in Washington D.C.