Chef Donald Link Capitalizes On Creole Culture In Haiti For Gede Fest

Chef Donald Link
Chef Donald Link, on the guitar with RAM founder Richard A. Morse, is celebrating Gede Fest in Haiti.

Gede Fest kicks off today in Haiti, and New Orleans’ Chef Donald Link is there to represent.

“After the revolution in Haiti (1791-1804), New Orleans received about 4,000 exiles which doubled the population of New Orleans at the time bringing with them their culture of food, music and Vodou,” said Chef Link. “I have always been interested in the African-Caribbean influences that have shaped New Orleans and Creole food and culture.”

Though Saturday, Nov. 3, the historic Hotel Oloffson will organize the first edition of Gede Fest that celebrates the Haitian Day of The Dead in Haiti’s Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. It’s billed as an original and innovative festival that combines art, culture, history and gastronomy by bringing together the Vodou rock band RAM of Haiti, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, thanks to the support of the Preservation Hall Foundation, and the celebrated James Beard award-winning Chef Link, founder of The Link Restaurant Group. He and his business partner, James Beard award-winning Chef Stephen Stryjewski, own and operate local restaurants La Boulangerie, Calcasieu, Cochon, Cochon Butcher, Herbsaint and Pêche Seafood Grill. They also created the Link Stryjewski Foundation to address the persistent cycle of violence and poverty as well as the lack of quality education and job training opportunities available to young people in New Orleans. 

The multicultural Gede Fest is designed to strengthen the links between Haiti and New Orleans, valuing the origins they share and allowing participants from both communities to rediscover their roots and to explore potential investments in the trade and tourism sectors. 

“I’ve traveled to Haiti before and numerous other Caribbean islands searching for knowledge and understanding of how they inspired the Creole culture we find today in New Orleans and how the world of Creole food has evolved over the years,” said Link, who grew up in South Louisiana and extols the importance of traditions and the region’s unique flavors. “The roots of this cooking can be found throughout Louisiana and southern food as a whole.”

“My goal going back to Haiti is to be a part of this culture by immersing myself with the locals to learn more about the Creole world that New Orleans is a part of,” he said.

Over the next nine days, Gede Fest will host conferences on historical-cultural relations between Haiti and New Orleans; present three musical performances by RAM, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Arcade Fire and other surprise guests; a music workshop; a second line parade featuring native RaRa music; two gastronomic-focused days including a free master cooking class taught by Chef Link; an exhibit of artwork created by Haitian sculptor André Eugène; and a master dance class led by Haiti’s Isabelle Morse.

“The second line that is so well known in New Orleans is an evolution of the RaRa funeral processions of Haitian culture and traditions,” said Chef Link. “And Afro-Caribbean food influences cemented the widespread use of rice, beans and meat pies (pâtés in Haiti and other countries), and the Cuban, Haitian, etc., techniques of boiling meat and then frying it. There is a version of this currently being served at Herbsaint with simmered and then pan-fried goat with curried lentils.”

In New Orleans, The Link Stryjewski Foundation announced Haitian band RAM will headline its fourth annual Bal Masqué fundraiser set for the weekend of Friday, Jan. 18, and Saturday, Jan. 19, at The Sugar Mill, 1021 Convention Center Blvd. The celebration of Caribbean, Cajun and New Orleans Carnival will also feature The Vermilionaires, Cha Wa, The Original Pinettes Brass Band and The Roots of Music. 

“We are so excited to bring RAM to Bal Masqué once again, not only because they brought the house down last year, but because of our shared culture and history,” said Chef Link.

“Music brings something different to every person, but the music at this event brings together people who are committed, like us, to transforming the lives of New Orleans’ youth,” said Chef Stryjewski. “Bal Masqué provides the support we need to offer better opportunities for the children in our community.” 

“We can do something to change the outcome for these kids,” said Chef Link. “While poverty may hinder their educational process, it does not sentence them to a life of failure. Together we can provide them with opportunity at a pivotal time in their lives to feel the satisfaction of achievement and have a future of full of hope.”

The Link Stryjewski Foundation contributes to and partners with nonprofit organizations including Kingsley House, YEP (Youth Empowerment Project), The Roots of Music, Son of a Saint and 826 New Orleans, that work directly to further the Foundation’s mission to nourish, educate and empower the youth of New Orleans.

“Each one of these organizations is committed to strengthening our community and making it a better place for our young people to grow up and learn how to lead successful lives,” said Chef Link.

In addition to Bal Masqué, the Link Stryjewski Foundation will present its Chefs’ Dinner, on Friday, Jan. 18, with celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini. The limited seating dinner will be hosted at Calcasieu with a four-course menu prepared by Chef Carmellini alongside Chefs Link and Stryjewski. 

“Those who know our group well, know that we love to throw a good party,” said Link Stryjewski Foundation director Emery Van Hook Sonnier. “Bal Masqué is not the more typically formal Mardi Gras ball or black tie fundraiser. We encourage guests to get creative with their masks, headdresses and costumes, for those going all out.”

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Revelers dance at the 2018 Bal Masqué at The Sugar Mill.
CREDIT: The Link Stryjewski Foundation


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