Christiane was born and raised on the lovely Caribbean Island of Martinique, a French Island situated in the West Indies, between St Lucia and Guadeloupe. We spoke about her journey, heritage and love for cooking:
Christiane, where did your love for food come from? Growing up in Martinique, food was always around us. We learnt to make the most out of what we had. When you got a piece of meat, it was a luxury to us, chicken was very expensive - not like it is here now. I was one of 8 siblings, and so if we had one chicken, we’d have to share between 12 of us, 8 children, our parents and the people that came over! I lived near the sea so everyday, I ate fresh fish, fresh fresh, fresh fish - fish was on the menu daily. My Dad used to have a yacht, he used to make fish nets in his spare time. He used to go out with his friends and catch fish. My mum used to raise pigs and chicken. She’d buy about 50 chicks, raise them and sell them to the neighbours. It was always around us. The thing about Martinique is that at any celebration, we cook. When a child grows his first tooth, we cook, when a child starts walking, we cook. We throw a party for anything. Everyone comes with a dish, we don’t ask you to but it’s one of our customs, it’s naturally ingrained in us. So there’s always plenty of food, and you know when you leave, you’ll be going with food.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking? As soon as I was able to hold an onion, I was in the kitchen. In our household, my mum always wanted us involved. One sister would peel a carrot, another would peel an onion. We were all around the kitchen, cooking together in pairs or in fours. We cleaned together too. Because we used to cook on charcoal, we needed to get rid of that black residue so I remember us all cleaning together, making sure the pots were shiny! Everyone was always involved.
Why are you teaching others how to cook these dishes? When I cook these dishes, I feel like I’m back home in Martinique. With drums, Calypso, steel pans, carnival, all of it. I’m always representing because I’m proud of where I’m from. It’s so important because I grew up there, and I want to pass it down to my children and grandchildren. I don’t want them to forget. They need to know where they come from, they need to know their roots. I don’t want to leave them in the dark, so then they can pass it down to their children, their grandchildren. There is lots of story behind my culture - the food, the music, the atmosphere. When I’m cooking, the smell brings me back to the Caribbean, the images and sounds of steel drums, zouk music, festival dancing and home.
Like the music, what other parts of Creole culture do you most enjoy? I listen to Zouk music all the time, every time I cook. Particularly a group called Kassav. Our music is very soothing and relaxing. It’s not noisy like certain other music. We also have madras, it’s the Creole cloth in madras colours. It’s a local costume - that’s what we’re known by. You can find it at any carnival, any celebration, people dress up. It signifies the Creole culture. Men have shirts, children have dresses - just something to present the colours, even just a scarf.
What dishes can we expect to learn from you on Diaspo? So many - BBQ Jerk Chicken, Crab Fritters, Chicken Colombo, Steamed Fish and Curry Crab which is my favourite dish of all...
Christiane in madras