Denver’s only Haitian restaurant, Taste of Haiti, shut its doors in Five Points back in February 2019.
Between feeling homesick and recognizing the city’s urgent need for more diverse cuisine, Farah-Jane JeanPierre has been preparing to introduce her own taste of Haiti to Denver with her new food truck concept, Fritay Haitian Cuisine, ready to roll out this October.
“I started calling my mom and aunts and practicing the dishes. My aunt and mom would give me the recipes and I would put my own touch. When the Haitian restaurant closed, I think that’s when I had the idea of opening my food truck,” JeanPierre said.
JeanPierre moved to the United States in 2010. She first landed in New York City, staying with family and pursuing a career in cooking and hospitality. Then, she packed up to Jersey City to pursue a degree in culinary arts. “It wasn’t really a big culture shock in the East Coast because you find a lot of diversity — I could find a Haitian anywhere. But when I moved to Colorado, the culture shock definitely hit,” she said.
Despite Denver’s lack of worldly cuisine and surplus of overpriced craft beer, JeanPierre decided to stick around in Colorado. “I’d have friends come over and cook for them, some Haitian and some American. One of them suggested opening a food truck, knowing that I love to cook. When I thought of ‘food truck’ all I saw was dollars signs — they’re expensive and I didn’t know where to start,” she said.
With the average food truck op averaging between $40,000 to up to $100,000, she needed some support getting her business off the ground. She connected with the Mi Casa Resource Center on Grove St., where she worked to expand her entrepreneurial and business skills to help get her idea off the ground. “I still work with them, they still support me, and that’s how I ended up buying my trailer,” she said.
To prepare for her official food truck launch, JeanPierre has been testing her recipes at catering and pop-up events around Denver and Aurora. She focuses on traditional Haitian dishes with a touch of inspiration from other cuisines, like Creole shrimp in tomato gravy, sweet plantains, duri djondjon (black rice with mushrooms from Northern Haiti), griot (a fried pork dish boiled and fried with a sour orange marinade) and roasted chicken marinated with epis, a Haitian spice blend consisting of herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric, onions and more.
“We use [epis] in every dish we make, usually it’s one of our main things to cook within Haiti,” she said. To JeanPierre, it’s best marinated overnight. “In Haitian cuisine, that’s what makes it unique. It takes time to cook, everything has to simmer. It’s the love you give it.”
Fritay — meaning fried or street food in Haiti — consists of comfort food staples like malanga fritters, Paté Kode, a Haitian take on empanadas, and her famous griot and fried plantains. Referencing childhood recipes from her mom and aunt, while adding her own culinary touch into each dish, JeanPierre wants to bring that nostalgic comfort to Denver.
“Growing up in Haiti, even after dinner and everything, we’d crave Fritay and then we’d go out for some,” she said. “There’s vendors and street food on every corner and neighborhood in Haiti selling Fritay.”
JeanPierre’s father was a lawyer and her mother worked in banking, but she gravitated towards cooking at a young age. Family dinners were her thing, and it’s where she got practice cooking for large groups of people. Then came the school events, and eventually she realized she had a knack and niche waiting for her in the culinary world.
JeanPierre anticipates that the City of Denver will approve her permit by the end of October.
“I wanted to bring this to Denver because it’s new and nobody knows what Fritay is. They don’t really know about our cuisine here, but I’m planning on introducing specials almost every week so I can bring other Haitian dishes to Denver,” she said.
All photography courtesy of Hilal Bahcetepe.