Chef Dimitri Lilavois instructs participants in cooking techniques. (Imani Cezanne/Busboys and Poets)
Chef Dimitri Lilavois instructs participants in cooking techniques. (Imani Cezanne/Busboys and Poets)

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Talk of the Caribbean island nation of Haiti is often in reference to earthquakes, hurricanes or some other type of natural disaster.

But Haiti, the first black republic once known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” is also an island of immensely rich culture manifested through its renowned visual arts, cuisine and music. The Embassy of the Republic of Haiti, along with the progressive restaurant establishment, Busboys and Poets, decided to shine the spotlight on the beauty of Haiti through all manners of creative expression and educational discussion with “Changing the Narrative: A Celebration of the Western Hemisphere’s First Black Republic,” a series of programs May 13-21 at the embassy and Busboys and Poets locations.

“Busboys and Poets is thrilled to partner with the Embassy of the Republic of Haiti to celebrate Haitian history, culture and its political significance,” said Andy Shallal, founder of Busboys and Poets.

The weeklong celebration, whose highlight is an open house at the Embassy of Haiti on Thursday, May 18, Haitian Flag Day, kicked off Saturday with a lively Haitian cooking class.

Chef Dimitri Lilavois, at the invitation of Paul Altidor, Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States, led some two dozen would-be chefs in preparing a traditional Haitian meal — Stewed Lanbi (conch) over riz djon djon (Haitian black truffle rice) and chayote au gratin. The appetizer, not including the Haitian sour cocktail that fueled the cookery in the embassy’s kitchen, was a beautifully assembled dish of Codfish fritters on a bed of herbed salad, all prepared and plated by the participants.

Later, the chefs and some specially invited guests sat down in the recently renovated embassy dining room, surrounded by lush colorful artwork, to partake in their creation served on the official formal china.

The celebration continued Monday and Tuesday with a fireside talk at Busboys and Poets’ 5th and K location between Ambassador Altidor and Busboys’ founder Andy Shallal, and an installation of the “Food & Folklore” series on Haitian culinary tradition with Haitian chef Nadege Fleurimond, whose latest book, “Haiti Uncovered,” is an exposé of Haiti and its foodlore at Busboy’s affiliate restaurant Mulebone.

Midweek highlights include a private guided tour on Wednesday, May 17, “Honoring Haitian Contributions to African American History and Culture” by Joanne Hyppolite, curator at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Later she will be joined on a panel, “We Are Forever United: A Conversation Honoring Haitian Contributions to African American History and Culture,” at Busboys and Poets Monroe Street location, along with Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African-American studies at Georgetown University; Patrick Delatour, architect of historical monuments and former Haitian Minister of Tourism; and Patrick Tardieu, curator of Haiti’s oldest library, Bibliotèchque Haitienne Des Pères du St. Esprit.

Thursday’s open house — “(Re) Discovering Haiti through its Arts and its People” — invites the community to partake in Haitian culture with Haitian-American author and poet Jeff Dess and Pages Matam, director of poetry events at Busboys and Poets, as well as a tour of the embassy and the private art collections of Galerie Monin and Fritz Racine, former owner of Gallery Bolivar, a longstanding establishment selling Haitian fine arts. Guests will also be able to view the Embassy’s latest Pearls of Excellence exhibit, which showcases the contributions of the Haitian diaspora in the United States.

On Friday evening, there will be a panel discussion on current events featuring D.C. Attorney General and Haitian-American Karl Racine, Massachusetts state Rep. Marie St. Fleur and Patrick Gaspard, former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and former DNC executive director. Yamiche Alcindor of the New York Times will moderate the panel at Busboys and Poets’ location at 14th and V streets.

An acoustic set by Haitian songstress Emeline Michel on Saturday night at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville will provide a musical interlude, and Sunday will conclude Haiti Week with a pop-up shop, “Rebuilding Haiti through Entrepreneurship: The Gift That Will Keep on Giving” a marketplace featuring homeware, gourmet products and fashion accessories at the Embassy of Haiti, 2311 Massachusetts Avenue NW.

Visit for a full schedule for Haiti Week in DC 2017, and other events regularly featured at the Embassy of Haiti. Busboys and Poets will be organizing at “Busboys Tribe Tour of Haiti” from July 25-Aug. 1. Visit for more information and to RSVP for specific events.

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