A Conversation with Acclaimed Executive Chef Alain Lemaire of Sensory Delights
Chef Alain Lemaire aka Mr Ou Manje Déjà (Mr. Did You Eat Yet) is a Haitian born entrepreneur co-owner and Executive Chef of Sensory Delights Catering, a full service boutique-style luxury company catering for weddings, social and corporate events. Chef Lemaire now based out of South Florida is an award winning Chef whose culinary creativity and twist on traditional Caribbean dishes has garnered him a well-deserved following and a reputation in the industry.
Oddly enough, he shared he began his culinary journey out of necessity. He explained that, “Growing up in a Caribbean household, you had breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but no in between meals or snacks. So, I had to be crafty, pay attention to my mom, grandma, or the woman who cooked at my house whenever they were cooking so that I could learn the steps and techniques that they were using. Little by little, my need turned into an interest, and I started being more invested in the kitchen and cooking for my friends.” It is this interest which became a passion and love of seeing people come together, and enjoy his creations that propelled his drive throughout his career.
Chef Lemaire is always pushing the envelope, his quest to innovate and perfection are key ingredients that led him to compete on Food Network's Chopped, and Cutthroat Kitchen. He has also participated in, and featured as a guest chef in numerous food and social events throughout the United States, and overseas including the James Beard House.
Photo provided by Chef Alain Lemaire
Chef Lemaire is a sought after chef whose personality is as big as his heart. He is conscientious, agreeable and a fun loving professional who is customer focused and detailed oriented. We were pleased to dialogue with Chef Lemaire and get to know him just a little better.
CE: What is the first meal you cooked completely on your own?
CL: I can recall vividly that my first meal ever was an attempt at cooking bulgur wheat with mackerel in a spicy creole sauce, sauteed onions, and fresh lime. I just loved bulgur wheat back then, and I still do now. I just cook it better and with some twists.
CE: How did you develop and hone your skills in the kitchen early on? Did your family support your interest in the culinary arts, or did they hope you’d pursue a more traditional career?
CL: It took me some time for me to develop my skills, or pretty much get into who I am today. At first it was more for the need to be able to feed myself, then the interest came, but the realization that this was something that I really wanted to do for the rest of my life came and the hard work, dedication, and constant improvements followed suit. On a consistent basis, I try to keep pushing the limits, read more, watch more videos, and get inspired by other chefs.
In no shape or form did my parents, brother, family, or friends support my decision to pursue this career. As we all know, 25 to 30 years ago, it was frowned upon or imaginable for a man to be in the kitchen. Why you ask? Culinary Arts was never considered a career path back then. Cooking for home, parties, and special events was more handled by home cooks, or at times by the lady of the house whenever she wanted to showcase her skills. So, for a young man to decide to pursue a career in a field unknown by many was crazy.
CE: What are some of your favorite ingredients, or spices to work with?
CL: I love using anything fresh, earthy, and bold such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, garlic, scotch bonnet pepper, coarse sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and others.
CE: Did you have any mentors, or chefs you looked up to and had the chance to work with early on?
CL: I did have one mentor during my college years, Chef Todd Tonova, who was also one of my teachers. Great guy, full of knowledge and talent. As I become more and more involved in the industry, I started to pay attention to chefs like Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsey. But recently I have started to pay more attention to black chefs such as Chef Kwame Onwuachi, Gregory Gourdet, and many more.
CE: Would you say you have a signature dish or style of cooking?
CL: I wouldn’t say that I have a signature dish per se, more like favorite items to cook which are lamb chops, and seabass. If you could put my style into words, I would use: vibrant, fresh, colorful, and fusion. I just love using fresh ingredients, mix and match, and transform them into what is going on in my head. Most of the times they end up into these dishes that even blow my mind.
CE: You’ve appeared on the Food Network on shows such as Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped, what were those experiences like?
CL: These two experiences were surreal. Never had I imagined that I would compete, let alone compete on a worldwide network. Both were fun, stressful, and challenging all at once. But, I believe that Chopped takes the edge because of the stress level I experienced, the complexity of the ingredients, and the mere fact that you would never use them together.
CE: How did your catering company Sensory Delights come about, how long has it been existence?
CL: Sensory Delights really started out of nowhere. Me and my business partner met each other at Gouts et Saveurs Lakay in Haiti, where we realized that we had a lot in common and shared the same passion for food presentation and quality, great customer service, and overall great dining experience. We wanted to make sure that “Haitian Caterers” were seen in a different light and that we could rival with any other caterer. Now, we do more than cater to the Haitian community as we catered weddings for Russians, Nigerians, Colombians, Ethiopians, Chinese, Australians, and so forth. We have been in existence for about nine years now, though officially six years.
CE: What has been some of the best advice you’ve received both in business and personally?
CL: The best advices that I have received that apply both in business and personal life would be to be consistent, transparent, work hard and smart, and to always give my best at anything. Your word is your bond, and it is your biggest asset.
CE: Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
CL: Five years from now, I am looking forward to have Sensory Delights grow even more with steady contracts. I also envision myself taking my endeavors such as “Ou Manje Deja?” to next heights.
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