An Interview With Haitian-American Chef Tina Lee
The heat doesn’t just come on when Chef Tina Lee enters the kitchen, baby. It intensifies! The Fort Lauderdale-based chef makes a mac and cheese to die for, and don’t let her fans get started on her Chef Tina Lee Saturdays! On selected Saturdays, she designs a special menu of appetizers and a main meal. Depending on the day, Chef Tina Lee patrons can feast on a barbecue cornish hen and poached snow crab or deep-fried snapper with papaya topping. And then there’s Chef Tina Lee private dinners. Only very, very special people get invited to those events! No amount of money in the world can get you an invitation to one! Yes, dears, it’s easier to fit your thumb inside the gaps of a charcoal grill then to get an invitation. So some people sit there, hoping, and praying a Chef Tina Lee private dinner invite text will send their phones chiming! Now, let’s get to know Chef Tina Lee….
Tell us about yourself…and…How did your love of cooking begin? I am Chef Tina Lee, cute little kid birthed into this world by aliens. I’m still waiting on my spaceship to come back for me. But for now, my birth certificate suggests that my mom—a Haitian immigrant—and my birth father—a Bahamian—are my parents. I grew up in a large family. All I know is work, and I would say I’m a pretty well-rounded lad. I’m chaotic, crazy, fun, sarcastic, and free-spirited. My love for cooking began when I realized I couldn’t cook. I was between the ages of 10-12. I realized I’ve always cleaned meat, but never cooked it. In our culture, if you don’t know how to cook, your certificate of being an authentic woman is revoked. So, I learned very slowly….
What are some ingredients that you can’t do without? I absolutely can’t go without salt, Maggi, white pepper, Scotch Bonnet, Lilly butter, sugar, Complete Seasoning, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, seasoned salt, and butter. When did you realize that you wanted to take your cooking skills and your love for it to the next level? Well, I found my self watching the Food Network more and more. And I wanted to do everything I saw and put my own twist on it. I was always trying to figure out how I could have made a particular dish different. I had my moment, and enrolled in culinary school.
What advice do you have for newbie cooks and for the experts who’d like to be at or near your level? Well, it depends…there are levels, but there are also levels of experience. I’ve been doing this whole chef thing for almost ten years. I have a lot of insight, but I’m not a master. I will never be a master, because I’m always learning. I’m always wanting more. I stay alert and hungry daily. I don’t know what level I’m on, but if I had any advice, it would be to keep progressing and honing your craft.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? Interesting. Besides everyone telling me to open a restaurant…people always think I have it all figured out. I don’t get much business advice, but I do receive a lot of motivation, and encouragement and I thank all of my supporters for keeping me grounded.
What do you wish you had done differently in your career? Nothing. Everything happens how it’s supposed to happen!
Do you go to Haiti often? Does it play any role at all in your culinary artistry. I haven’t been to Haiti in at least a decade. I planning to visit next year, though. All my food is the root of Haitian cuisine. How I cook, how I season, how I clean my proteins is all influenced by my Haitian upbringing. What’s next for Chef Tina Lee? Chef Tina Lee doesn’t even have that answer. [Laughter] I’m just out here waiting for dey bus…nah, but I don’t know…new food, new laughs, a lot more creations! Thank you so much for the opportunity.
CLICK HERE to keep up with Chef Tina Lee and her dishes! Originally published in April 2017