Haitian Cuisine by visually impaired chef
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Michael Lafaille went to Montreal to seek treatment for his macular degeneration, a condition that has left him with only 25 % of his vison. For five years, he worked at the dine in the dark restaurant, Onior, where he learned a lot, but in spite of his sight issues, he had a desire to do more than just work as a head waiter or manager.
Encouraged by his supportive wife, Claudia, Michael decided to venture out on his own and they opened their first location, Kwizinn, Plaza St. Hubert in 2017. During the Covid-19 pandemic, another location, Kwizinn in Verdun, was opened in their neighbourhood. At the start, this venture was a bit overwhelming for Michael, especially working in a kitchen with others who at times did not fully understand his condition. It all worked out, however. He built a great team, and with his supportive wife and family, the business is now a known name and popular place to eat.
The location on Plaza St Hubert has now been transformed into a take-out counter only with no seating – catering to Ubereats, Skip the Dishes and Door Dash orders. The Verdun location, however, is spacious, with a nice bar serving delightful rhum cocktails such as O’zanana. Kwizinn recently launched their own beer called Anbyans, a collaboration with Donmaine Berthiaume Brewery.
Michael loves good food and great flavours. He’s travelled with his wife to expand his knowledge and taste buds while exploring different cultures. His nanny in Port au Price, however, still remain his main food influence. She taught him about cooking and impressed on him the delightfulness of her traditional recipes filled with lots of love and infused with fresh spices. He has taken these with him to Montreal and they can all be found at his restaurant.
The restaurant’s decor takes you on a journey to Haiti. Michael’s wife has incorporated the look and colours of the country in and outdoors. Window styles are reminiscent of Jacmel, fun swings, beautiful art work and wall paper are all geared towards capturing the essence of Haiti and the Caribbean, which, when blended with good food, drink and company result in good vibes. Every weekend, there are live bands, steel pan, DJs, themed nights such as Cuban night or jazz.
One of the traditional dishes Michael serves is Griot Verdun, which is tender pork cubes, marinated in Haitian spices and then fried. It is served with rice and beans (Riz Cole), bananes plantain, pikliz (spicy cabage salad) and papaya and chayotte salad. There’s a delicious creation on the menu – a plantain burger (gluten free), considered to be a finger-licking, must-order item. Another popular dish is the tasting platter that changes every month based on whatever inspires them at that time.
“I always tell others no matter what, always look towards the positive side and never give up. No matter what, anyone can do anything, as long as you put your mind and heart into it. Have courage and you can accomplish anything.” Michael advised. “Kwizinn’s projects will never stop. My wife and I have created this from the ground up and with support of family, we will continue to bring new flavors, and great vibes so stay tuned. There will be more in the future.”
Kwizinn Express Take-out: 6670 Rue St Hubert || Kwizinn Resto Verdun: 4030 Rue Wellington