This story is part of 1 Minute Meal, a documentary series that uses food to reveal the communities, legacies, dreams, realities and unseen forces that shape life in New York City.
When she was a Brooklyn kid, Cindy Similien-Johnson thought of herself as an African American from New York. The Haitian food her parents cooked at home was something that she enjoyed, but not something she associated with her personal identity.
As the years passed, Johnson maintained her essential relationship with black identity in the United States, but began to invest more time in understanding the history and the culture of Haiti. During this process, home cooked Haitian food took on a much bigger role—a familiar stepping stone to self-discovery that was more tangible than a book and more accessible than a flight to Port-au-Prince.
Food, however, is hardly a sufficient vessel for culture. Johnson realized this when her 105-year-old grandmother passed away. While Johnson had learned the family recipes, she yearned for more time to truly learn her family’s history, in Haiti and beyond. Having published Haitian cookbooks before, she set out to write a different kind of recipe collection—one that would use cooking as a gateway to the life experiences of Haitian families around the world.
Five years later, Johnson has completed that book, entitled “Let’s Speak Haitian Food.” Staying true to her Haitian and Brooklyn roots, she collaborates with Haitian businesses like Grandchamps and Kafe L’Ouverture to bring all generations of Haitian New Yorkers together. Whether it’s to dine, to cook or to read her children’s book to Haitian American families, Johnson is determined to give others the thoughtful connection to culture that she’s worked so hard to build.
Through September 1, Edible Brooklyn is collaborating with Edible Manhattan, Edible Queens, Edible Bronx, and the Staten Island Advance to debut 30 new videos about food and life in New York. Subscribe to 1 Minute Meal to see a food films from all five boroughs.