Ron Duprat Talks Haitian And Caribbean Food And Cooking On TV - Exclusive Interview

If anyone alive today can be said to have experienced an unlikely journey to success, it's Chef Ron Duprat. Born in Haiti in 1972, he travelled to the United States "as a kid who was on a boat [for] 27 days" during a crossing of the Caribbean sea. His first restaurant job was washing dishes while his next work with a restaurant will be opening yet another venue, this time Salt by Ron Duprat, which he is launching at a resort on Saint Martin. In between those two experiences, the chef has cooked for everyone from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, Beyonce and Jay Z, he has appeared on myriad cooking shows often facing off against world-renowned chefs, and he has established himself as a luminary of the hospitality industry, working with restaurants, resorts, and exclusive clubs around the nation.

Despite all his success in the American culinary scene (and indeed around the world — he has done extensive work around the globe thanks to work with the U.S. State Department), Duprat always brings the conversation around to his first and greatest love, at least in terms of food: the cuisine of his native Haiti and the Caribbean islands around it. Of course, Caribbean cuisine was but one part of a recent conversation with Mashed and Chef Ron Duprat.

Why Chef Ron Duprat has always worked with food

When did you know that food would be your life's work?

As a kid, growing up in Haiti, [it] was a opportunity of a lifetime, something I will cherish for the rest of my life. Food brings people together. Doesn't matter who you are, Black, White, Native American, food brings us together. Food is the biggest legal drug out there. Everyone loves food. If you and I disagree, we sit down and break bread and have some food, we may come up to some conclusion. I think food is love, and food is passion, food is life, food is friend, food is everything.

Did you always want cooking to be your career?

Since day one. When I start, I never looked back. If I do anything it's just push forward every day, and go above and beyond exceeding our members' or guests' expectations. That's what food is about. Since [some] of my early experiences [when I got] to work with Phil Marone, Anna Marone, Randall Cox, Adam Savage, and some other chefs. They way they treat me, and the love they have, for those guys to give me the admiration, to be the next Randall Cox or the next Adam Savage or the next Pierre Dussant, and the list goes on.

What are some of the qualities in your opinion that make for a great chef?

The quality is to be able to deliver great food, to be able to understand members or guests, to be able to go above and beyond, to do seasonal foods, and exceed members' or guests' expectations. That's some of the best quality, [the] table-touching, make sure everybody leaves happy, make sure the members or guests are happy and make sure the staff is happy.

Ron Duprat talks cooking on TV

What are the challenges of cooking on TV, versus when you're just cooking in your regular kitchen?

That's a big question. As a classically trained chef, cooking on TV is not one of my fortes. Everything I make takes a long time, whether I'm doing a sauce, whether it's a demi-glace or the mother sauce, and the list goes on. You cannot make that stuff in five minutes, so TV cooking is not for me. I mean, it's an opportunity of a lifetime, something I will cherish the rest of my life, but it's very different. That's some big challenges [of] cooking on TV.

What were some of the biggest challenges and the best parts that you experienced on the various shows you've done?

Oh, lots of [challenges] but I think they're all fun. As you know, I did "Top Chef," I did "Iron Chef," I did "Bar Rescue," I did "Beat Bobby Flay." I guess, "Bar Rescue" was probably the most fun because I was the host. It's different to be a host than when you are a competitor so, I will say that "Bar Rescue" probably was the best. Jon [Taffer] is a sweetheart.

What was it like going up against Bobby Flay?

As you know, I'm a real chef, I'm not a TV chef. So, as you know, you go to his own kitchen it's just — I know I'm better chef than Bobby Flay, but I didn't get to compete with him, so hopefully one day I can beat him again.

Is there a show you would like to do that you have not been on?

"Dancing With the Stars." That's next — that's my next show. Hopefully, I can be on "Dancing With the Stars."

What people get wrong about Haitian and Caribbean food, according to Ron Duprat

What do people misunderstand about Haitian and Caribbean food, and what do you wish people knew more about Haitian and Caribbean food?

Oh, a lot. There's so much it will take weeks, months, maybe a year to explain. People think Haitian food today is rice and beans. Caribbean food alone, probably the best food in the whole world. As we're mixing, we're mixing the Caribbean with African food, we feed the Afro-Caribbean. This is some of the best food in the world, but I don't think people understand. They can go to Italy to eat spaghetti [and] meatballs, they can go to France to eat French food, they can do the same thing [and] to go to the Caribbean. 

Where there's Haiti, where there's Bahamas, or Jamaica, we have some of the best cooks in the whole world, we have some of the best seafood in the whole world, and the list goes on. I think Haitian, Caribbean, Afro-Caribbean food is underappreciated because people don't know much about it. I think there's so much more to talk about it. One day, we can go into detail to tell the whole world, you can buy a plane ticket to have some of the best food in Haiti.

What are a few of the dishes that best represent Haitian food?

Oh, there's so much. There's griot, which is fried pork, double-fried pork. There's the diri djon djon. I made it on "The View," I made it with Whoopi Goldberg. You may see it called du djon djon. And there's the fried plantain, and there's legume. As you know, [the book] "Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community," [encourages] everybody trying to eat healthy. Our legume is the best in the whole world because it's all vegetables. That's some of the top dishes for me.

Chef Ron Duprat on African-American cooking

What do you think has brought on the change in attitudes about African-American cooking and what does the new awareness of Black cooking mean for the future of the American culinary scene?

This is a very political question. At the same time ... well I tried to stay out of politics because as a chef, we cook for everybody. We don't get in for politics, but I'm going to take it. This is just my opinion. As you know, the world, with obesity, with all this, I think if we think of Black chefs [as] having an obligation to embrace "Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community." Fried chicken is great, but we need to do better than that. We need to go where they take the same soul food, elevate it to make it healthy, so we can be part of the solution not part of the problem. Even as Black chefs have recognition ... I think it is time for us to put our ego aside and work together to come up with food, not only [that] people enjoy, but it can be healthy also.

Ron Duprat offers advice for chefs and discusses a few of his favorite foods

What are some common mistakes you see chefs making, and what is some advice you have for home cooks who want to improve their cooking?

I have a few. Number one, everybody [thinks they] are a chef. Nobody takes time to learn the basics. With their mise en place or with their knife skills. I think those are some of the mistakes I see chefs make. Thinking they are the chef, but they don't know nothing. I think some of these things, as chefs, the whole world, we need to talk about what people learn the right way. You can go to culinary school and have a degree, but you don't know nothing. I think the basic is learning and then do the right things. I think that's some of my advice. 

What is one dish that you never get tired of preparing?

It's coq au vin, which is one of the French and Afro-Caribbean dishes. I think this is my go-to dish. Whether it's Coq au Vin, or lobster bisque, or clam chowder, or Chilean sea bass ... That's some of the dishes. I don't have one dish [in] particular, because [it's] dependent on the guests. As a kid, growing up in Haiti, maybe [different], but working in New York with some of [the] people who love food at the Montauk Yacht Club ... I think seafood, the coq au vin and that [would] probably be my go-to dish.

Is there a dish that you think is just overrated or just not that good? One that you would just like to never make again?

You tried to get me in trouble for that, but I will answer that question. I don't know — en papillote. This is one of the dishes I think is so overrated. That's probably one dish I will never make again.

You can discover some of Ron Duprat's favorite recipes on his website and keep up with what he's doing in and out of the kitchen by following him on Instagram