Food is often a connector, helping us to celebrate our differences as well as our similarities — it’s all in the pot! All while lifting our own spirits to understand that we have within ourselves the ability to deal with any situation.
As part of our series about the lessons from Inspirational Black Chefs & Restaurateurs, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nadege Fleurimond.
Entrepreneur, author, speaker, business strategist, branding guru, culinary maven Nadège Fleurimond wears many more hats than her white chef toque. She skillfully draws from her Haitian heritage to effortlessly fuse the traditional and the modern. Nadège is a passionate innovator who harnesses her entrepreneurial skills and creative inspiration to serve communities. Her expertise runs the gamut, from brand development to event planning, fundraising, business coaching, and more. This self-proclaimed “Professional Epav” [free thinker] successfully juggles a thriving catering company, a growing real estate venture, and a flourishing consulting business.
Nadège is also a published author. Haiti Uncovered: A Regional Adventure Into the Art of Haitian Cuisine, a beautifully illustrated coffee table cookbook published in 2014, chronicles her culinary adventures throughout Haiti’s ten departments. It interspersed travel anecdotes between descriptions of exoticproduce, innovative recipes, and cooking traditions. Nadège’s new book, Taste of Solitude: A Culinary Journal, documents her self-discovery journey as she cooked her way through the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
As a business strategist, Nadège works alongside multiple partners both in the New York City area and internationally. She heads a successful real estate venture with Gotham Properties where she successfully beautifies and flips homes. She collaborates with Belle Vue Tours to coordinate a multitude of culinary travel tours to Haiti as well as serve as the head of marketing for Diner en Blanc Haiti. She nurtures strong individual and professional ties with the community.
Born in Haiti, Nadège learned how to cook from her father,whom she joined in Brooklyn at seven years old. Since then she has expanded her culinary endeavors into a full-fledge brand. Through her ROAR(Reach, Organize, Act, Realize) coaching sessions, she teaches the community how to make their businesses thrive. Through ROAR, she provides in-person consulting services, leads online mentoring sessions, engages her followers via live workshops, and offers brand management advice to businesses and individuals on how to build and grow a thriving brand. She cultivates a stellar roster of private and corporate clients. She has been showcased on the Food Network’s “Chopped” and profiled in multiple renowned publications such as Epicurious, Food and Wine and Conde Nast Travel. Nadège has earned the New York Media Alliance’s 2010 Ethnic Press Fellowship, the 2011 Feet in Two Worlds Food Writers Fellowship from NYC Media, as well as a U.S. Embassy grant to use culinary diplomacy as a tool for empowerment, entrepreneurship, and self-esteem.
She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University. Nadège is staunchly convinced that we are so much more than our job titles. She strongly encourages living a life of passion and purpose because she believes that “Your true self will manifest no matter where you place yourself.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
I was raised by a single dad who was and still is a phenomenal cook. At the age of 8 years old, I already knew how to cook full course meals. I remember cooking extravagant sunday dinners for my dad and his friends and watching them enjoy the food as they played cards and dominoes which brought me so much joy. It was always a lively scene full of jokes, music and that’s when my joy and passion for catering was born.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
I first learned how to cook Haitian food. That’s the food that speaks to my soul. But I grew up in New York City, and having attended Brooklyn Technical High School and Columbia University, my friends and environment were always diverse. I met people from so many different places and was always intrigued by their various cuisines and cultures.
In High school, I learned that sharing food was a great entry point for conversation and connection. I went to school with kids from the Philippines, Italy, Jamaica, China, Dominican Republic and so many other places, and we always found food similarities or connections no matter the cultural or ethnic background. Whether it was the commonalities that existed between Haitian beignets, an Italian Zeppoli , an Indian Samosa or a Senegalese Fataya.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life is not about finding yourself, but rather crafting yourself. You have to make a decision about the kind of person you want to be and make a concerted effort each and every day to develop the habits and traits that will get you there.
I made the decision early in my life to be a person that inspires others to pursue their dreams and reach their highest potential. And I wanted my life to be an example of that. Thus each and everyday I follow my dreams.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
When I first decided to cater, I was a junior at Columbia University studying Political Science. My friends loved my cooking and encouraged me to do it as a side hustle. So I posted a personal chef ad on Craigslist. I was hired for this gig to cater a private dinner for four. After eating my wonderful grilled snapper, the host stated, “the meal was delicious, but oh my what an adventure”. I then realized that Americans weren’t as used to eating fish with the head and bones as Caribbeans were. So navigating the fish was an adventure for them. From that day on, I went the fillet route.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
I was blessed to have a great network upon starting my business. Early on, I was already catering for major firms and organizations such as BET, Budweiser, Etc. The challenges and hardship didn’t happen till about 6 years in business around the recession. Most of my business dried up as my focus was corporate catering.
But that time forced me out of my comfort zone. It really pushed me to utilize my entrepreneurial muscle and innovate. My business is where it is now because of those tough years. I developed initiatives such as cooking classes, events that would become staples for years.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The reason I love Haitian cuisine is because its flavors are bold yet there’s still a subtlety in how the ingredients show up. There is no overwhelming lemongrass or curry but the dishes linger. I think that flavor palate is conducive for pleasing almost anyone. Where you can blend great ingredients together to create magic yet still allowing the main star of the dish to stand out.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
My perfect meal is anything that is full of carbs. Lol mainly rice dishes such as paella’s, arroz con pollo, rice and beans.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I just released my 3rd book, Taste of Solitude: a culinary journal inspired by my love for New York City’s eclectic dining scene, Haiti’s authentic and spicy flavors and world travels.
Taste of Solitude is not your typical cooking book — it’s also an inspirational and therapeutic guide to dare to live your best life. The book features creative images of me in my home, and ingredients as I share recipes, stories, lessons and themes that emerged from this time: Gratitude, friendship, hope, and so much more. I believe this book can serve as a bridge, connecting and bringing people from different cultures together especially during a time of division and hatred. Food is often a connector, helping us to celebrate our differences as well as our similarities — it’s all in the pot! All while lifting our own spirits to understand that we have within ourselves the ability to deal with any situation.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Success is a journey, not a destination. Oftentimes, I think as entrepreneurs, we burn out because we are seeking to reach an ultimate destination which doesn’t exist. Thus, we lose sight of all the small magical moments because it is not THE big moment we envision in our head. I think we have to take the time to experience the moments and the journey more. Take time to stop and enjoy the small moments. Breathe.
Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
Be malleable! Success is not always going to be wrapped up in the package that we sometimes expect. I love cooking. I think for a long time I thought that meant I had to be cooking as just a chef in a restaurant or in my catering business. But something was not fully connecting for me. I realized as much as I loved food, I loved food as a medium to tell stories, connect people, and share lived experiences and lessons.
At the end of the day it’s about finding your magic within the space.
COVID-19 has been a trying time for all of us. How are you growing your business during COVID-19? What advice do you have for any chefs who are trying to stay relevant during this time?
Mid March I thought I was done. Most of my businesses revolved around people. From my catering to events to our world culinary tours, everything had come to a halt.
But the situation, as the recession of 2008 did, made me realize entrepreneurship is about innovation. But more importantly, I reconnected with my core mission of connecting with people to share common experiences through food. I turned on my phone camera and cooked and shared. From those Live videos via social media I was able to reconnect with my original audience, garner new ones who were experiencing the same uncertainties, and fear of the time that I was feeling. We cooked our way through it all. And a book developed from it.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
That Discipline beats talent any day. Yes I knew how to cook, but without the discipline to develop my craft, not just when there was a job on the table, there would be no growth.
Treat everyone with respect. I learned this from my father, but didn’t realize how it would help in business until I started traveling abroad and would be in kitchens and how the staff would go above and beyond for me because “unlike the other chefs I was kind”.
You need a mentor. Yes, I was always very mature but I wish I had gotten a mentor in the field so I wouldn’t have to learn everything on my own. While I think experience is a great teacher, it’s always good to avoid pitfalls that are avoidable.
Manage your money. I think I made so much money early on in catering that I did respect money until later in the game.
Self care is important. Yes, working hard is necessary to accomplish your goals and dreams but you need to balance it out with the things you need to refuel. Whether that’s exercise, sleep, drinks with friends, spending on something that is not a “necessity”. Take time to do the things that feed your spirit. They will make you better at your craft.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
If anyone attends my events they have to try to challah bread pudding with coconut rum sauce.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My belief is you can ROAR (Reach, Organize, Act & Realize) through or into anything. From aiming to lose 10 pounds to discover a cure for a deadly disease, I think if we reach-Dare to dream, ask, aim), Organize-structure, learn, research, plan, then Act do the hard stuff-fail, do again, fail again, succeed, and do it all again, we can change the world because we will be living our lives to our fullest potential. And when we do that, we inspire others to do that and make their own contributions.
How can our readers further follow you online?
I am on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nadegefleurimondentrepreneur
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!