Chef Melissa Francois Culinary Storyteller
Updated: Feb 24
Chef Melissa Francois, is a talented Haitian chef who is part of a younger dynamic group of chefs who have in many ways elevated the way many, even Haitians, think of Haitian gastronomy. When she resided in Haiti, she was the Executive Chef at Asú Rooftop Lounge, located at Karibe Hotel. Chef Melissa’s savory dishes attracted many time and again, making Asú the place to be.
The Culinary Institute of America graduate spoke with Caribbean Essence and delved into the varied paths her career has taken her, and her earliest memories and experiences in the kitchen. Chef Melissa shared that these memories were with her grandmother, who used to bake for many of her community’s special events and it was then she got her first “job” in the kitchen helping her grandmother create her sought after confections. Now based in Florida and working as a caterer, the mother of three like everyone is navigating life during the pandemic and is continuing to share her love and express herself creatively by crafting menus, dishes and decadent deserts with attention to every detail.
Photo Credit: Pedro Galvez
CE: What are some of your first memories in the kitchen?
CM: My grandma was the town baker. She used to bake for every occasion for everyone for free. I used to joke and say that my grandparents’ house was the town banquet hall. My first memory in the kitchen must be sifting flour for all the cakes and pies.
CE: What do you enjoy most about being a chef, and being creative in the kitchen?
CM: Being in the hospitality business has its perks. You get to share people’s most joyous moments. You are remembered as the one who cooked awesome food for their engagement, wedding, or date nights. I feel that I have special and intimate bond with everyone I cook for.
When I am creating a dish I feel that I have a super natural power, the power to give each and every ingredient a new life with a new identity.
CE: What was the first thing you learned how to cook, do you have a special or favorite dish you are known for?
CM: Like any Haitian kid I learned how to cook spaghetti with hotdog.
CE: Tell us a little bit about how your career in the culinary industry started?
CM: I started in the industry as a server at a country club in Huntington, NY. I was part of teams which launched several projects including Red Devon and Dogwood in New York and a restaurant at Seagate Hotel and Spa in Florida.
In Haiti I was the executive chef at Le Plaza Hotel, it was an honor. Working at Asú was a lot of fun. I also opened a restaurant, APIELO, named after my kids. It focused on a farm to table culinary experience with an educative aspect. It showed locals how to be versatile with our Haitian products. My time in Haiti was well spent. Now I’m back in the States and working on several projects that I'm unable to reveal, for now.
CE: Besides Haitian food, do you have a favorite type of cuisine?
CM: I’m in love with Haitian food, but also the Caribbean, where bold and fresh meats are like their people (wink). I love love love Asian food. Give me any country in Asia, I love their food. But after my trip to Mexico with Chef Jason and Chef Jouvens, Mexican Food is a new found love. I also love Italian both the boldness of the northern region and the freshness of the southern region of Italy. In a word I’m a sucker for food from the healthiest to junk food and from the most simple to the most elaborate, as well as sweet and savory to hot and sour. Give them all to me!
CE: How do you get inspired in the kitchen to create new dishes?
Photo Credit: Audrey Ann Theodore
CM: A dish starts with one element, a protein, a vegetable, or a starch or an idea and I start cooking and let the knife, the sauté pans, and the heat of the stove or oven take me on an adventure.
CE: How do you craft your menu? Please elaborate?
CM: I tend to tell a story with my menu. Every dish is a chapter and each elements are characters. Lol, nah it’s all feelings.
CE: What are some goals or items on your bucket list career wise you still want to accomplish?
CM: I want to publish several books.
CE: What are some of your personal bucket list items?
CM: Be closer to God and tell people how great he is and how much HE loves them. Make sure most kids in school get fed in Haiti, raise happy kids who are great human beings and Christians.
CE: In the Caribbean, scotch bonnet peppers are a must, do you like them personally and do you use them when cooking?
CM: Scotch bonnet pepper is very floral and aromatic. I love to use it in very specific dosages.
CE: What is your favorite Haitian dish and why?
CM: We can go all day. I love every Haitian dish. But I can tell you about one dish: rice and beans. I love it because it is satisfying, fast and it is a complete protein. I also love it because of the memory that it brings. The smell of the beans when it is fried with “epis” the gratin reminds me of my neighbors’ cooking. Or the warm “sòs pwa” that is going through my esophagus with nicely flavored rice brings back memories of when I ate from street vendors on a hot day after school.
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