Some might know his name from season 18 of Top Chef, while others might simply know him as Chef Viaud, responsible for some of the most incredible Haitian food in New England. No matter how one knows of his skill, one thing is for sure - Chef Viaud is showing the world how food, culture, and community are really done.
This culinary-holy-trio of facets is equally representative of the vibe that Chef Viaud brings to his restaurants, Greenleaf and Ansanm. Both are located in Milford, New Hampshire, where they've managed to set the scene for a purely authentic blending of both Haitian food and a locally-sourced menu. With a foundation of hard work, determination, and a strong sense of his family's roots, his restaurants are a shining beacon of welcoming to those who are new to Milford.
The Origins Of Chef Viaud's Inspiration, And How It Has Transformed Milford's Culinary Scene
The cornerstone of this story begins in New England, where Chef Viaud talks of several things from his upbringing there that kept him coming back. After graduating from Johnson & Wales, Chef Viaud returned to Milford, but not before first working in fine dining in Boston with some of the city's most talented and creative chefs. He tells us that it wasn't until his junior year at culinary school that he sought a direction for his passion, and there was no better place to do so than one of the greatest cities on the East Coast. However, that wasn't all that brought Chef Viaud, in a sense, home to New England.
Being just outside the city provided the comfort of living in a suburban area with access to many great shops and restaurants, and also the ability to spend time in the city within a short distance. I love the changing seasons of New England which allows the chance to reflect on past successes and future growth.
Additionally, he notes that being in Boston - and working under such skilled chefs - "exposed him to a new way of thinking and preparing food and challenged in ways that would help him advance in his career."
Armed with the knowledge he learned from Deuxave - one of the top-rated French restaurants in Boston - he left the city with the title of managerial chef. After being an essential part of the opening of four restaurants between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the extraordinary chef opened his own, Greenleaf, at the age of only 28.
A Community Brought Together By Flavor
Ansanm, which is Haitian-Creole for 'together,' Chef Viaud tells us, is run out of Greenleaf. Together, two cuisines - one, locally-sourced and community-oriented, and the other, fueled by family recipes and equally community-oriented - coexist to create dynamic dining experiences in Milford.
The main focus behind developing the brand was always to bring my family back together to learn more of our rich history as it related though food. I wanted to find ways to connect with our parents and learn a little more about the country that they came from and how we can honor and preserve our heritage by sharing stories within the community. Milford, New Hampshire is where my restaurant, Greenleaf, is located, and we transform the space once a month to reflect the sounds and smells of our culture.
This key aspect of Greenleaf's life reflects a once-a-month tribute to the best that Haitian cuisine has to offer. For Chef Viaud, this celebration of food and culture is a family affair, and from an outsider's perspective, it's one that Milford is incredibly lucky to have. When asked about Greenleaf's influence on locals and how it has affected the community, as a whole, Chef Viaud said:
Since opening Greenleaf in May of 2019, we had the goal of providing something new and unique to the area and part of that was focusing primarily on a seasonally inspired menu where we source as much from the local farms as possible. The community appreciates so much the dedication that we have to building our community and supporting local and also that the food that we create is imaginative and excites their palettes in ways they might not have experienced before.
Having Ansanm being represented within the community as well has offered insight to the expressive flavors and dishes represented within Haitian cuisine. The food and cocktails paired with the sounds of the Caribbean that we play during dinner service provides you with the feeling of being on a tropical Island.
An example of one of these culturally-celebrated dishes that comes highly recommended by Ansanm's owner is Soup Joumou, which is so significant to Haiti and its history that it's a protected dish under UNESCO. While the dish - which is a symbol of Haitian freedom and so much more - is at the top of the list, Chef Viaud was happy to share with us some other foods that first-timers should try without hesitation, if given the chance:
I would say you have to try Fritay which consists of a lot of different fried foods. Next is Griot, which is pork shoulder that is marinated in a citrus herb blend overnight, boiled in the marinade, then fried. Another one of my favorites is Poule Nan Sos which is stewed chicken in creole sauce. Other staples include Banan Peze - twice fried plantains, diri djon djon - black mushroom rice and the condiment that we eat with every meal, Pikliz- a spicy vegetable slaw consisting of cabbage, hot peppers, sweet peppers, carrots and onion soaked in a citrus vinegar blend.
To say that our mouths were watering by the end of this would be an understatement. If this doesn't speak to Ansanm's incredible and diverse menu, then we're not sure what does. The sense of family and pride in everything that Haitian culture has to offer the world, not just in terms of flavor, are positively radiating out of Greenleaf one night a month.
Chef Viaud On Travel, And The Inspiration Behind His Culinary Masterworks
While his Haitian background and strong family bonds have helped to create and propel Ansanm, Chef Viaud also draws inspiration from other areas. When asked where inspiration is coming from at the current moment, his answer came from a personal and humble place.
I would say that at this time I am focusing on pulling inspiration from chefs that are representing the African Diaspora.
Over the past couple years I have gotten the opportunity to work with and taste so many different and unique foods from different cultures that it has been an eye-opener for me.
This creativity is seen easily in Greenleaf's daily menu, which includes items featuring ingredients that are locally sourced from farms surrounding Milford, which are used in culturally - and internationally - diverse dishes. From Housemade Parker Rolls with molasses butter and a local cheese board, to a Togarashi Spiced Pork Loin and Duo of Duck served in two ways, it's easy to see how playful creativity and a bit of worldly influence play into such a stunning menu. Even the tagliatelle for the Spring Vegetable Carbonara is hand-cut, while the sheep's milk ricotta is homemade for the Ricotta and Mushroom Tortellini.
This play on cuisines is carried even into the bar menu and its seasonally-inspired cocktails, which include fun and unique drinks such as 'Rhubarbs Drag Race,' 'Curse of the Black Tea,' Pam + Eric,' and 'Haitian Hemingway.'
What's Next On The Horizon?
Of course, we had to ask where, given anywhere in the world, Chef Viaud would go for even more culinary inspiration, his answer was exactly what we'd expect: "I would say Charleston or New Orleans. I love the food scene and the diverse food culture that is represented throughout the area all with a laid-back, easy-going feel." When it comes to encouraging others to travel, though, his answer was more diverse and far more personal:
From personal experience I would say visiting the regions along the Rhine and Moselle, South Carolina and The Caribbean. You can see the differences represented within the different countries along the river with beautiful landscapes in Europe, you'll get a feel for southern charm and hospitality, and you can resonate with the true island time... where it feels like there is a sense of calm and relaxation, and you can live in the moment.
While we pondered our future plans to the Rhine or even a trip down to the Caribbean to experience that same atmosphere, Chef Viaud reminded us of how important 'home' can be, as well. In regard to Milford, specifically, he said, "We have that small-town feel with a lot of incredible things to do around the area. Besides eating at the local restaurants or grabbing drinks in the area there are many small niche craft shops where you can find cool items." He went on to add that hiking and enjoying the state's beautiful lakes, ponds, and parks are another unique aspect of living in - and visiting - Milford.
As for his own future plans, they don't seem to include leaving Milford anytime soon, and the community, surely, is thankful for that. "I am always seeking future opportunities for growth both personal and professional where I can continue to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone, especially when I have the chance to learn more about African American culture." In addition to challenging himself and growing from a personal place to expand his own cultural knowledge, he went on to say that one of his goals is also to learn as much as he can from the talented chefs around him, which will shape him into the "chef and person" he is becoming.
I am now at the point where I am digging into myself and really exploring who I am and who I wish to become and in just the last two years I have seen tremendous growth, and I am understanding my identity.
These words, while simple, are so powerful in the face of the world as we know it today. Chef Viaud's journey is one that is humble, creative, and inspiring. Whether it's visiting the town of Milford, New Hampshire, and experiencing a brilliant and beautiful cuisine one might not expect to find there, or traveling the world and allowing oneself to be inspired and educated, these are words to live by.