Kizin Creole has the distinction of being Illinois’ only Haitian restaurant. Running the show is Port-au-Prince-born-and-raised Chef Dan, a graduate of National Louis University and a former culinary advisor at Chicago’s Chez Violette Restaurant. The culinary master spent a portion of his childhood years in Jacmel, an artsy town about two hours from Haiti’s capital. He immigrated to the United States in the late 1990s and after a series of entrepreneur ventures, he launched Kizin Creole. He felt that the experience he had acquired as a culinary advisor two years prior to his launch, gave him a unique perspective on how and why new independent restaurants succeed.
Located on Howard Street, the restaurant serves classic Haitian food to Chicagoans and visitors to who are eager to stroke their palates with international fare. Chef Dan is currently seeking a Certification in Hospitality management.
The chef won an award from the famed The National Black Chef Association.
Kreyolicious: I imagine that when Chicago founder Jean-Baptiste Point-du-Sable came to the area, he probably started his own restaurant. What’s the scene like for restaurateurs in Illinois?
Chef Dan: Chicago is a very difficult place for restaurateurs in general. Haitian restaurateurs are no different. From my seventeen years of living there, I have seen a lot of Haitian restaurants come and go in less than three years. It is very difficult to maintain continued support from the community due to the diversity of options available in Chicago. Haitian food is unique ethnic cuisine and we rely primarily on our community to help us thrive and represent our culture. Kizin Creole is the reincarnation of a previous Haitian restaurant (Chez Violette). When the owners decided to close it after two-and-a-half years, I was very disappointed, and so was the community. The place was very nice. I would bring a lot of friends to not only try the food but to experience a taste of Haitian culture. I decided to take over because of the need to have a Haitian representation in Chicago. We can’t continue to laud the accomplishments of and take pride in a Haitian from Saint Marc, Jean-Baptiste Point DuSable, who founded this great and diverse city, only to remain absent from the culture scene of Chicago. That’s unacceptable. That’s why I took on the mission to start , the only Haitian restaurant in Illinois.
Kreyolicious: Do you think that Haitian cuisine is too spicy for palates and how does that affect your approach to cooking it and serving it?
Chef Dan: Haitian cuisine can really be spicy depending on who is cooking. Personally, I love spicy food. I also need to point out that spicy can mean flavor or hot. In terms of flavor and savory spices, we use a lot of it in Haitian cooking. I consider myself as the flavor chef. On the other hand, we control the heat and that is why we have pikliz on the side for every meal for those who want their food to be super-hot.
Kreyolicious: What’s it like running Kizin Creole?
Chef Dan: Running a restaurant is certainly one of the hardest business to run. It is also very rewarding if you know the ins and outs. It is most important to be patient. You are not going to be successful in just one morning. It takes time and requires classroom and on the job training. For me being a father and a husband makes my job even more difficult because you have to keep up with the family as well. I also have to face the financial challenges to keep up with the overhead, hiring more people and keeping things moving forward. Being the only Haitian restaurant also creates its own challenges. We are the singular representation of Haitian culture that is available to the public on a basis daily. We have to provide a service that can make all of us proud.
Stay tuned for PART II of the article with Chef Dan from Kizin Creole. Meanwhile, to visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.