Meet the only woman serving up Haitian culture to Denverites, one plate at a time
Sak pase, Denverites?
When Farah-Jane Jean Pierre moved to Colorado in 2018, she immediately searched for her community.
Jean Pierre was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and immigrated to the United States via New York in 2010 after a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake left over 220,000 Haitians dead and 300,000 injured. Her family settled in the Elmont community in Nassau County, Long Island, which has a large population of Haitian immigrants.
The search for other Haitians was easy in New York. But Colorado was a different story.
Which makes sense. Most Black immigrants in the U.S. live in New York and Florida. Miami, in particular, is home to the nation’s largest Haitian immigrant community, accounting for 4% of the metropolitan area’s population, according to a Pew Research Center report.
While Colorado has seen a 433% increase in its Black immigrant population from 2000 to 2019, according to the same report, most of the new residents were from Africa, specifically Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia to name a few countries.
So Jean Pierre had to make her own community. And she did so through cooking.
“When I moved to Denver, it was a big culture shock because I was so used to seeing Haitian or Caribbean people all over the place,” Jean Pierre said. “Diversity is on every corner in New York, but here you have to go to one side of town to see people of color… But I made friends with people at work. My roommates were Mexican. I found a cousin here that I didn’t know I had, and I cooked for them. We’d have Haitian dinners all the time.”
Jean Pierre started cooking when she was about 13 years old and earned a culinary degree once she moved to the States. She later earned a degree in hospitality, which landed her a gig in Colorado.
She’d cook for friends, family parties and, of course, her little community in Denver. Then her friends gave her a tasty idea: What about a food truck?
Jean Pierre started doing her research. She attended classes at Mi Casa Resource Center in Westwood, where she learned the ins and outs of the food truck industry. She attended pop-up events to showcase some of her family recipes.
She also learned that the only Haitian restaurant in Denver, A Taste of Haiti, closed in 2019.
Wanting to share her culture with all of Denver, Jean Pierre went all in. Fritay Haitian Cuisine was born.
“We opened in December last year (2021), and we’ve gotten so much support,” Jean Pierre said. “I’ve met other Haitians, people who have been to Haiti, people who have organizations in Haiti. I’ve met a lot of people who love Haitian culture and Haitian food. I’ve had customers who have never had Haitian food and they always come back.”
Fritay in Haitian Creole means “fried” and can refer to street food platters of fried Haitian goods, which is what Jean Pierre is serving.
There’s griot, fried pork shoulder that is cubed and marinated overnight in epis, a green marinade of blended parsley, scallions, thyme, celery, garlic, lime juice, vinegar, green peppers and scotch bonnet peppers for the spice. There’s poul fri, or fried chicken, which differs from American fried chicken in that there’s no batter or breading. Just flavor.
And you can’t forget the sides. Rice and beans (diri ak pwa), along with fried plantains, macaroni salad with peas and corn, and marinade, a doughy fritter.
“Haitian food is full of flavor,” Jean Pierre said. “It’s a bold fusion of fresh ingredients. It’s unique and worth trying because of its uniqueness. I guarantee you will love it.”
Some of Jean Pierre’s specialties include fried snapper and diri djon djon, which is rice infused with black mushrooms native to Haiti. Jean Pierre’s parents send over the delicacy frequently. And then there’s soup joumou, a pumpkin or squash soup that symbolizes freedom to all Haitians. It’s traditionally eaten on Jan. 1, which is the day Haiti liberated itself from French rule in 1804. (Brief history lesson: Haiti was the first independent nation in the Caribbean and the first country to successfully revolt against slave owners.)
Sharing historically cultural dishes like soup joumou is why Jean Pierre continues to serve up Haitian food to Denverites.
In the future, she wants to open a brick and mortar restaurant. But for now you can catch her trailer at several locations. On Thursdays, she has a permanent spot at Wah Gwaan Brewing Co. in Lincoln Park, and on Fridays, she’ll sometimes frequent Novel Strand Brewing Co. in Baker. Her other permanent location is in the parking lot of Family Dollar on Sheridan Boulevard and West 10th Avenue in Villa Park.
“It’s a new flavor for Denver,” Jean Pierre said. “It’s been only three months since I opened, and I have regulars. I do what I can because before there was nothing. I hope to bring back another Haitian restaurant to Denver in the future. So tell your friends, so they can tell their friends because without their support I won’t be able to make it.”