MILFORD, NH – Bravo channel’s Top Chef competitor and award-winning Chef Chris Viaud, who owns and operates Milford’s farm-to-table restaurant Greenleaf, is bringing a taste of the Caribbean to New Hampshire, and it’s a family affair. What originally began as a family Zoom meeting to capture their mother’s native recipes has considerably expanded into a community-wide experience.
For the past year, on a monthly basis, Chef Chris – a first-generation American of Caribbean descent – and his family host Ansanm Sunday Dinners (Haitian Creole for: “together), monthly pop-up dinners where authentic Haitian dishes are prepared for patrons.
“When we initially launched, we were just using it as a means for our family to come together and learn how to cook some of the food that we grew up eating. And then it just developed and evolved into something where we were like, okay, we’re gonna put this food together, we might as well just open it up to the community and see how it would be received and see if anybody would be interested in trying something new,” says Viaud.
To say that the indigenous dishes were well-received would be a gross understatement. During its introduction, expecting around 10 orders, the Viaud family surprisingly received over 100.
“It just was a shock, to see the amount of support, the amount of people that were willing and interested to try some new food and kind of explore our culture through food. It was meaningful to be able to put all this stuff together, have our family together, and share that within the community,” Chef Viaud said.
His culinary expertise in the kitchen has not gone unnoticed within the restaurant industry – Viaud was also recently nominated as a Semifinalist in the 2022 James Beard Awards under the Emerging Chef Category, the new name for the former Rising Star award.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Chef Viaud about his upcoming Ansanm Sunday Dinner event, on Feb 27.
CC: As Black people, food is extremely important to us. Can you speak to that?
CV: Of course, yes. Food is culture. Food is love. It allows us the ability to identify with one another. And we can find similarities and commonalities between how we were born, how we were raised, where we came up with, and especially as Black folk relating to all of our culture, our heritage, and being able to share that and explore that with the community. I think it is very important for those who are willing to listen. And those that could help also inspire a next-generation, of focus and attention being put upon younger representatives, culture speakers that we are experiencing now.
CC: What do you think contributed to a large number of unexpected orders, and have you sustained that?
CV: Yes. Part of it, I do believe, has definitely generated from me being on “Top Chef “and getting some recognition around the state. But the second part, I think, is people are curious, the community around them is very curious, they want to see, they want to break away from their old habits of trying out the Italian restaurant. We’ve been able to offer something completely new, unique, and offer flavor that people have never experienced before. I think from that, people wanted to explore and see, Ansamn-did you try this Haitian food and it almost became some sort of word of mouth, like a secret underground society where you could explore some flavors of the Caribbean. Each month, orders come in, and, of course, we see some regulars coming in back each month, because they’re just waiting for the end of the month where they can get their fix on their Haitian meal. But, from that, it’s just been through social media, through word of mouth, where the word has been spread. For us to be able to hit that one-year mark, I mean, that speaks wonders to what we’re able to do since the beginning.
CC:…especially during COVID.
CV: Yes, for sure. That’s part of how Ansanm came to be. Also, the original concept was just for our family to meet over Zoom. My mom would hold cooking classes, where we would buy all the ingredients, and then, one Sunday a month, we’d get together on the Zoom, and then just be able to learn about the food. But then, of course, we wanted to make sure we were all comfortable with coming out together, and we thought, you know what, let’s just do this in person, we’ll see how things go, and the community around us, of course, are still looking for their takeout meals, where they can sit comfortably at home and enjoy some delicious food and we were able to capitalize on that. Seeing the need within the community for something new, unique, and also feeding their families, which they didn’t have time to do, and to be able to have their families explain it’s important to share, understand and respect other people’s culture and other people’s identities, and just continue the conversation. I think each month that’s gone along, we’ve been continuing to gain a massive following and people wanting to explore and say, what is this? How do I get my hands on it?
CC: This all started having meetings with your mom on Zoom?
CV: Yes. So, the initial conversation was just saying, Mom, I want to get the family together. I want to learn your recipes… there’s not so much “written recipes.” The tricky part, in the beginning, was just like, okay, Mom, we’re gonna do this. But your hardest path is going to be testing and writing these recipes we have documented. So now we have this whole Google Drive folder that we’re all a part of where we can see each and every recipe, all the ingredients, the steps. Those are the recipes that we’re cooking for communities. So if anybody asks, well, how do you make this now we have something to be able to share with them, and they can follow along. It was a Zoom conversation, and then from there, we almost bypassed that and jumped to doing over 100 meals the first month.
CC: I love the fusion of food, and I also love the transference of love into that food.
CV: That’s very important. That’s the key to it all, is just being able to feel the food, respect the food and respect the traditions, and recipes that have been passed on verbally, written, or however, that you have learned in the past.
CC: How would you envision the future?
CV: For the most part, it would just be continuing the pop-ups that we’ve been doing. All the pop-ups that we’ve done have been held at Greenleaf right here in Milford. But it was more to be opening up to other restaurants and saying, listen, I have this concept that has been proven in Milford, New Hampshire, I’d love to be able to open online ordering and pre-orders through your establishment, whether it be in Portsmouth, Manchester or Nashua, and just see how far along we can continue to expand the brand. There was a BIPOC festival that happened in Portsmouth last year, and we were part of that, and for the attendees there to say, oh, we need you here, we want you here, after tasting some of our food that we offered there, that was a little bit of a spark to say, why don’t we just branch out of Milford? But of course, that comes with getting all the family together and making sure that we can prepare all the food and transferring all the foods to these locations, so it’s definitely a difficult task. Whereas keeping it in Milford, it’s centralized. Everybody can just come here to one spot. But that is definitely something that is on the horizon for us to be able to explore other areas that we would be interested in serving.
Greenleaf is located at 54 Nashua St., Milford. Their next Ansanm Sunday Dinner event is Sunday, February 27.
The multi-course dinner begins at 4 p.m. and is priced at $40 per person excluding gratuity.
Greenleaf provides a pick-up/carry-out menu when there is not an in-person Ansanm Sunday Dinner. Details can be found here.