by Bill Batson
Every week, Michelle Timothee puts on a virtual cooking clinic at the Nyack Farmer’s Market. With produce purchased just steps away from her booth, Chef Michelle creates fusion meals that combine the cuisine of her childhood in Haiti and the skills acquired at Rockland Community College and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Her recipes, complete with a list of locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients are often published in the farmers market weekly newsletter.
When Timothee first arrived in Nyack in 1998, she was reminded of the hilly landscape of Petion-Ville, Haiti, where she opened her first restaurant. Entranced by the landscape and the warm embrace of a significant Haitian population that began arriving in Nyack in the 1960s, Chef Timothee is now expanding her culinary enterprise. If you haven’t yet tasted the Caribbean-infused fare at her Cafe La Talaye in Haverstraw, you can visit her at Nyack’s Outdoor Farmer’s Market every Thursday from 8a – 2p.
Nyack Sketch Log managed to put down the fork long enough to conduct this interview.
What does La Talaye mean?
he proper name is Saint-Michel-de-Attalaye. It’s located on the Central Plateau of Haiti. It’s very beautiful with farmlands and mountain in the distance. It’s where my parents and grandparents are from.
Where did you learn how to cook?
Inspired by watching my grandmother cook with seasonal ingredients, I add in my own touches of ginger, garlic, lime, turmeric, thyme, rosemary, scotch bonnet peppers and curry.
I studied Hospitality Management and Tourism /Culinary Arts at Rockland Community College and also honed her skills at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. I have travelled extensively throughout the Caribbean, Europe and the U.S. to cultivate and diversify my craft, but honestly, watching my grandmother cook for years with seasonal ingredients was the best training I ever could have gotten,”
Did you have a restaurant in Haiti?
Yes, I had a restaurant in Haiti at the time of the invasion 1993, (NSL: when the United States overthrew the government of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide) where I had to meet people from all over the world from organizations, embassies, humanitarians… little babies to dogs and so on.
When did you immigrate?
I came in 1998.
I needed better health care for my son.
My best friend came here when she was 14. She was always writing letters. I saw the name Nyack on the envelope. It was unlike any French or Creole word I’d seen before. My brother moved here first to Spring Valley. I used to come and visit. One day, my brother said ‘I am going to take you to a special place and you are going to love it.’ He drove me to Nyack. Where I had my restaurant in Haiti is similar to Nyack. We have a mountain like Hook Mountain. It had restaurant s and boutiques. You don’t need a car, you can walk. When I saw Nyack I said ‘wow I love.’
When Did you Join the Nyack Farmers’ Market?
Six years ago, I came to the farmers market and was so excited. I talked to Pam right away. All my vegetables come from the market, my honey. I also go to Rockland Alliance. I’ve picked some produce right out the ground. Between Blooming Hill and Madura, and Taliaferro is where all vegetable.
What has been the greatest challenge in launching a restaurant?
When did you become the Chef at the Marian Shrine?
I became a chef at the Marion Shrine in 2011 I make holy dinner for the priests and brothers.F or the past 6 years, I have been volunteering my time with my son cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for the community at the retreat center at the Marion Shrine.
How would you describe your cuisine?
My cuisine is unique… delicious fresh, colorful and healthy creative choices -a fusion of contemporary and innovative dishes and more favorites. I season everything I cook with love!
Who helped with the decor and design of the restaurant?
The decor is a vivid imagination of my home land, special touches from my parents house in Haiti where I grew up , my old apt in the states, the farmers markets (women in Power) and my Cousin Gary helped me with the design.
How do you stay in contact with the Haitian community in Rockland?
Attending community events, churches and support their businesses.
What are some of the more interesting catering jobs you’ve had?
Colleges, Commanding general retirement party at West Point military academy.
When were you home last? What’s going on in Haiti today?
I was home in 2009 to feed some kids in St. Michel De L’attalaye for Christmas literally 2 weeks before the earthquake.
Haiti today is still striving for success, warm and the beauty in everyone heart keeps the county alive regardless of challenges the country has encountered within the past 10 years. With faith and hope every goal is achievable.
I’m going to become a herbalist. I am studying at the Herbal Academy.
To learn more about Chef Michelle visit latayale.com.
Timothee Photo at Farmer’s Market by Luis Bruno. Find Luis on Instagram at lbfoto318