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Co-Founder of The Creole Food Festival Talks About Its Return to Harlem This Weekend

R&B superstar Pleasure P attending the 2nd annual Creole Food Festival

The first and only Creole Food Festival is back after a year-long hiatus. The three-time sold-out event has amassed thousands of guests over the years to come out, taste, and experience the culture and historical influence of creole cuisine.

This year is no different. After a brief hiatus due to the pandemic, this festival founded by two talented and successful Black businessmen aims to highlight celebrity chefs of color who have expanded and help elevate the cuisine to new heights, chefs like Gregory Gourdet, and Chef Jeffrey Atelier.

The Quintessential Gentleman caught up with Creole Food Festival co-founder Fabrice J Armand to discuss this year's festival and more.

What inspired the creation of this food festival and why is it important to have it for our culture?

There were a couple of inspirations behind creating this festival—the primary one being that we wanted to educate people about Creole Cuisine and its origins. This is important because most people only know New Orleans or Miami to possess Creole food, which made it clear there is a large educational component missing which is Creole, Kreyol, Kriol, Criollo, Crioulo food is found in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, South America, and the Southern United States, and it is all connected.

The second and equally as important reason is that we spoke with so many Black chefs and heard their plight in being typecast and always having to work at least 5 times harder to gain exposure and respect, in comparison to their white counterparts. So, we wanted to create an elevated and professional platform to showcase their value, creativity, and talent.

What do you think having this festival in New York City brings to this event?

New York City is one of the food capitals of the world. We wanted to add to the flavor of the city by bringing a food festival that is reflective of the cultural diversity New York possesses but was nonexistent.

Why was it important to keep this festival going as the world opens back up from this pandemic?

It was important for this festival to reopen because we wanted to continue our mission of showcasing the talent and creativity of Black and Brown Chefs. Especially now, with how greatly the pandemic impacted the food community. More than ever Black and Brown chefs and their restaurants need added exposure to continue to survive, and this festival provides that opportunity.

What are some obstacles you faced early on during this process?

Acquiring corporate sponsorship was very difficult, as well as getting venues to host the festivals. This was not due to a lack of pitching on our end—we even received some comments from venues about “our demographic not matching their brand,” and some brands hid under the guise of lack of budget while spending thousands on other initiatives. However, we continue to pitch in hopes that we will acquire sponsors and brands that want to invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives. In a world that often focuses on what divides us, we are a festival that celebrates what unites us through food and I think that is a message that every brand should get behind.

What are some misconceptions people have about creole food?

The biggest misconception is that Creole Food is solely from New Orleans and Haiti. Creole food spans countries and cultures including Senegal, Mali, Honduras, St. Vincent, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Cape Verde and so many more.

The second misconception is that this is not an elevated cuisine, and that is far from the truth. Creole food has always been elevated in terms of flavors, pairings, etc. I think that sometimes because food is not plated a certain way it is looked upon as not being elevated.

What's the process of bringing this festival to life?

My co-founder Elkhair Balla and I dedicated a whole year to research before even hosting our first food festival. We wanted to really spend time discovering the interconnectedness of Creole Food and the different continents and countries it has traveled to, for example: A ‘pelau’ from Trinidad, a ‘riz collé’ in Haiti, a ‘thieboudienne’ in Senegal, and a ‘jagacida’ in Cape Verde and a “arroz con pollo’ in Puerto Rico showcases the similarities of these different countries while also showcasing the slight difference in the execution of the dish. Additionally, we wanted to make sure we created a festival that is truly reflective of the diaspora and its richness—but it was important that the execution was professional and reflective of our class as a culture.

What do you look for when selecting chefs to participate?

We seek chefs that are authentic to their culture and reflective of the country they represent. We also look for chefs that are creative and do interesting concepts and blends. We want chefs who have done the hard work but have not received the “flowers” they deserve. We want this festival to be a space where they are honored and celebrated.

Going into its 3rd year, are you feeling the impact that you are creating?

I think we still have a way to go with respect to our impact, we are like the little engine that could, trying one festival and city at a time to live up to our mission of celebrating black and brown chefs, being an advocate for them, and showcasing the most authentic version of our cultures as possible.

What can attendees expect this year, compared to previous years?

This year we are hosting 17 chefs in NYC, we usually only have 11. We have also partnered with amazing brands like Kreyol Essence in their new endeavor for highlighting healthy cooking with Moringa with a demo from Chef Stephan. We are also bringing awareness to some Black-owned businesses like Mabi Tea, and Pearl Street Caviar, and last but not least we are grateful to have Barbancourt Rhum as the sponsor for this year’s festival.

What is your hope 5 years from now when it comes to the festival?

Our hope five years from now is to host the Creole Food Festival in six US cities and possibly one internationally. We want to continue our work of highlighting the talents of these Black and Brown chefs and hope to have created a long-term sustainable partnership with a corporate sponsor who at their core truly believes in diversity and inclusion.

Finally, we want to create a scholarship fund for individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in either the culinary or hospitality fields.

There is still time to buy tickets for the August 7th event here.

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