Each baker here at Greyston has a unique story to tell. Walk into the break room and you’ll see a plethora of personalities. But you might not even notice the people around you because there’s something else pulling you — the mouthwatering smell of homemade Caribbean soul food.
Our baker Denise loves food and loves giving food. Almost every day, she brings and shares a large portion of homemade food from her native Haiti. And though she has a great gift for cooking, you’ll find one thing dwarfs even her tremendous talent: her immense heart.
I sat down with Denise to talk more about her love of food, how her past in Haiti and her experience here in the U.S. has shaped her, and how Greyston has impacted her journey through it all.
J: So first things first, when did you start cooking?
D: Ever since I was a little girl in Haiti. I remember the first time I tried to cook, I think I was about 7 years old. Because you know, back home when the grown ups were cooking, we were imitating them so we would find tomato soup cans and we would try to cook things out of the cans. So from there, I just kept going and going, trying to put ingredients together.
D: My grandmother. She raised me from the time I was 3 months old so she taught me to cook and she taught me to share. She said cooking without sharing is nothing. When you cook and people love your food, it makes you happy. If they’re happy, I’m happy.
So when I see people eating my food–it makes them smile–you don’t know the joy it brings in my heart.
J: That’s beautiful. Your grandma’s food brought you joy?
D: All the time. All the time, yes. ‘Cause she raised me from the time I was 3 months old so it’s always been her until I turned 12 years old, I came here to the United States. So I came here to my father and I found my stepmother and–thank God–she loved to cook so I just kept on learning. Whatever she did, I just basically copycatted.
J: When did you realize cooking was something very special to you?
D: I realized that I loved cooking when I moved out on my own when I was 21 years old. Then I had my daughter, then I started cooking. I’ve always cooked. I’ve always cooked because when my father and stepmother went out to work, they left me to start the cooking process. Then, after that, I started loving it more and more. Then after I moved on my own, the same thing that I’m doing [at Greyston]. People from the area that I lived in, they would smell my food from out the window and they would come and ask so I give and they tell me that my food is good, you know, how I make it. So it brings me more joy to make it when people enjoy my food.
J: So you’ve been cooking for other people for a long time.
D: Very long time. I was in a shelter. You know, at the shelter. And I did they same thing, you know? I cook. Whatever it is, I’ll cook if you come eat.
J: For free?
D: For free.
J: How many people would you say that you’ve made and given food to?
D: To be honest with you, I cannot count ’cause ever since I started doing this job, it’s gonna be 3 months, every time I get a chance to cook, I bring. At church, I cook for over 300 people. So, it’s nothing for me. Like, for instance, I have to come to work at 11. I sometimes stay up the whole night and cook and come to work. It’s worth it. It makes me happy.
J: What is your ultimate dream?
D: My dream is to have a restaurant and at my restaurant, I wouldn’t care if you come and don’t have money. I still would feed you. ‘Cause food is food. God gives to us so we should share with others. My thing is, I’m not opening a restaurant for myself–it is for myself, for my benefits–but also for benefits of others.
I cannot see people go without food. Hunger, it hurts me.
I used to go without food when I was back home in Haiti. That’s the worst feeling ever. For you to spend a whole day walking by foot to got to school and coming home from school and not finding anything to eat . . . God blessed me so I have to bless others.
I want a place, a place where people can come and sit down, enjoy, listen to music, enjoy the food and, you know, express themselves. Feel free . . . I have a name for my restaurant. It is called Bon Bagay Haitian Cuisine. “Bon bagay“ in my language means “Everything good.” The name has to be appetizing ’cause when you walk in, (pointing at the food on my plate that she brought in that day) that better be good, that better be good, and that better be good. That’s why I said everything is good.
J: Has Greyston played a role in achieving your dreams?
D: Actually, ever since I came here, Greyston has been mo–
Okay, let me say something. Not to brag. The other day, I brought food. I’m the kind of person that if a person is in a higher position than me, you know, I feel scared-ish like I don’t want to–I brought some food and I shared it with Karen. To me, in my mind, I was scared to do it. But something just kept pushing me, “Just offer. Offer. You come everyday and you give everybody food. Just offer.” When I gave her the food, and she ate it, the compliment that came after her eating that food—whew–if I had died that day, that would’ve been more than–it just made my day cause I know we’re people. We’re human. We’re just alike. But having somebody else out of my culture, my boss eating my food and telling me that it’s wonderful, it’s delicious, she loves it–that makes me–
Greyston is helping me already by having their people telling me they see that I’m about something–I wanna do something.
And when I do bring it to them, they can see it, they can feel it, they taste it for themselves. So Greyston has been giving me more confidence.
J: I have one last question for you: who are you?
D: I am Denise, a girl that’s been struggling for life but that does not give up. I don’t believe in giving up. I give all until there’s nothing left in me to fight. I’m strong. I have a lot of opinions. I’m fair, gentle, and you know, just take me as I am: happy always. Always happy. Nothing makes me sad. I don’t have time for sadness in my life. I have a family to raise so therefore they should not see me unhappy.
A child of God–that’s who I am.