Test Kitchen LA- TiGeorges

Centuries of invasion, foreign occupation, blackmail and slavery have plagued the beautiful island nation of Haiti.  Despite gaining independence, the aftermath of a long history of turmoil has left the country to deal with poverty and disease.  Matters only got worse when the infamous earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, and the nation suffered one of the most catastrophic natural disasters that our world has ever experienced.  I witnessed first hand the devastation of this calamity when I spent a month in Haiti on a humanitarian aid project.  Death, desperation and destruction came raining down on Haiti with brute force, but just like their ancestors who fought through hard times with resilience and resistance, the Haitians remained determined to survive.  Their inherent strength and courageous spirit lived on through energetic dance, music and art.  The only thing that I saw missing on my visit to Haiti was an expression of culture and identity through food, due to the dire food shortage and lack of resources.
When I heard that Georges LaGuerre, affectionately known as Ti-George, was cooking at Test Kitchen LA, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to be able to enjoy authentic Haitian cuisine.  I wasn’t going to miss this dinner for the world, as I wanted to show my support for this Haitian chef who himself lost his esteemed Echo Park restaurant, TiGeorges Chicken, in a fire while working hard to raise earthquake relief funds.  Ti-Georges has spent most of his life in the US, but he goes back several times a year to his hometown Port-De-Paix on the norther coast of Haiti.  He is pure Haitian, in flesh and blood and in heart and soul, and his food, influenced by his grandmother who was a Haitian street vendor, is made with pure love.
For a mere $25, his tasting menu featured classic Haitian specialties that reflected Creole, African, French and Caribbean cooking styles and used island ingredients like conch, plantains and taro.  In true Test Kitchen LA fashion, resident mixologists Julian Cox, Eric Alperin and Joel Black were in house to serve delicious cocktails paired with the food.  The theme was rum, and only the finest Haitian Barbancourt rum at that.  Haitian rum punch, made with Rhum Barbancourt, muddled pineapple, house made grenadine and lime, was refreshing, sweet and delightful.  The special rum, blackberry and mint cocktail that Joel made for me was fantastic.

Acra, grated Taro roots blended with herring, green onion, bell pepper, onion, garlic, black pepper and parsley, was introduced on the Test Kitchen menu as the national dish of Haiti.  These Taro fritters had an incredibly soft texture with a delicate fresh flavor without any fishiness from the herring.  It was served with Pikliz, a Haitian hot slaw made with sliced cabbage, carrots, habanero chile, salt, key lime juice, oregano and vinegar.  TiGeorges obviously tamed the heat in his pikliz for his American diners, as there was only a mild noticeable spiciness to the slaw.  Is acra truly the national dish of Haiti?  Google searches brought up other contenders like plain rice & beans, fried pork (griot) with rice & beans, rice djon djon, soup joumou (pumpkin soup) and kibrit (goat).  We’ll have to trust TiGeorges on that one.

Bannan pézé, or deep fried green plantains sliced, crushed in salted water and fried in oil, were the perfect crispy complement to the conch lambi.  Slippery but tender and flavorful pieces of stewed conch cooked in garlic, olive oil, bell pepper, onion, paprika, key lime juice, cloves, oregano and habanero chile gave me a tingling happy sensation all over- perhaps the effects of what is declared to be an aphrodisiac for the Haitians?

My favorite dish of the evening was the festive cabrit, or goat meat fricassee, baked with key lime, boiled in vinegar, then grilled over a fire.  The result of the painstakingly long and careful preparation of the goat was a beautiful dish rich in flavor, juices and complexity, with tender meat falling right off the bones.  A spicy sauce made with key lime juice, olive oil and habanero chile gave it an extra boost of savor that moved me to lick the entire plate clean.  The Test Kitchen menu description of the cabrit came with a comical anecdote of ‘if you have ever been to a Haitian party and goat meat was not served…you did not go to a Haitian party.’

Deep fried mounds of chopped sweet plantains drizzled with caramel and powdered sugar rounded out the simple but delicious and surprisingly filling Haitian meal.  With a texture similar to rice krispies, this warm dessert was an absolute joy to wolf down with my glass of Haitian rum while chatting with TiGeorges at the bar.

It was ironic to be having my first real home cooked Haitian meal in the US, but I was happy to be able to support and meet TiGeorges through this Test Kitchen experience.  I discovered that like many of the Haitians whom I met on my trip earlier this year, TiGeorges is a man of integrity, passion, determination and grace.  When we talked about our respective experiences in post-earthquake Haiti, I was still questioning the current state of affairs while he was already projecting the direction of growth and prosperity through education and self-sustainable agriculture.  With ambassadors like TiGeorges working tirelessly in rebuilding and repairing his country, we can start to see hope and light at the end of the tunnel for Haiti.

TiGeorges’ Chicken

Construction to repair fire damages is currently under way at the original restaurant, and will hopefully reopen within a couple of months.  In the meantime, he is temporarily operating at Caveman Kitchen, a rotisserie restaurant in West Adams

The Caveman Kitchen

2215 S. Vermont ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007
ph: 323-737-3717

TiGeorges Haitian Coffee

Thank you TiGeorges, for the delicious coffee beans.  TiGeorges’ organic blue bean coffee, made in the mountainous northwest region of Haiti where he grew up, is available for purchase online.

TiGeorges Foundation

Please support TiGeorges’ foundation, which works to restore the vibrant eco system of Haiti by replanting trees in underdeveloped areas of deforestation.  Through cultivation of Haiti’s land, the foundation hopes to build a more sustainable country rich in resources.

Random trivia:  Did you know that the pupil in a goat’s eye is rectangular instead of round?  This gives them better peripheral depth perception.