Diaspora

Blu Violet brings complex Haitian flavors to Providence – The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — Almost a decade ago, Joël Eugène was a produce delivery driver from Haiti who felt stuck. He was raised in Somerville and was spending his days handling leafy greens, herbs, and plump tomatoes, only to hand them off to chefs in kitchens around Boston when he would rather experiment with different ingredients, make his own recipes, or practice plating himself.
That is, until one day he was trucking along Talbot Avenue in Dorchester. He saw the sign for the Ashmont Grill, a beloved neighborhood restaurant serving American plates, and knocked on the back door of the kitchen. He told the chef that he wanted to learn how to cook. And he was told to return the next day.
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Eugène was eventually able to quit his job delivering produce, and began working in kitchens across Boston full time. He put himself through classes at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and earned positions as a banquet and sous chef at hotel restaurants from the Seaport District in Boston to Newport, Rhode Island.
“I fell in love with the culture of working as a chef, creating my own dishes. From that first day that I walked into a kitchen to cook, I never looked back,” he said in a recent interview, sitting at the sunny rooftop bar at the Aloft Hotel in downtown Providence.
Now, Eugène, 33, is the executive chef of Blu Violet, which opened in late December 2021 on the top floor of the Aloft.And for the first time, he’s making sure his Haitian heritage is represented on the menu.
His crab fritters ($15) are similar to Haitian marinade, crispy fried fritters stuffed with savory fillings. At Blu Violet, he serves four on a bed of crunchy and tangy pikliz, which is a popular Haitian condiment of bell peppers, carrots, Napa cabbage, and scotch bonnet peppers pickled in white vinegar and seasoned with garlic and onion.
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“In Haiti, this is what you would serve with anything fried. Fried pork. Fried plantains. But I added my own twist to it,” said Eugène, indicating the mayonnaise he’s added to the bright pikliz.
When asked how much of his culture he’s been able to incorporate into his own recipes, he said “Not as much as I’d like to in the past, but that’s going to change here.”
“Haitian food is complicated, and I always cooked what I thought people expected to eat. I’m not doing that anymore,” said Eugène. “I’m finally in a place where I can actually do my own thing.”
Eugène has introduced a new special to Blu Violet guests each night since opening, and he said diners should expect new menus to come out throughout the year. Each menu, he said, will be seasonal and feature more Haitian fusion.
“Even if I have to start importing goods, it’s going to happen,” he laughed.
Also on the menu, the Seared Shrimp and Grits ($25) has crispy grits with prosciutto, pearl onions, sweetie drops, and five plump shrimp placed on a shallow pool of lemon-thyme-buerre Blanc.
The forage mushrooms and carrots dish ($14) is vegan and features local produce with a honey harissa on top of a swirling, orchid-tinted beet hummus.
The chicken “lollipops” are grilled with a tomatillo sauce. And the Blu Violet Burger ($17) has Vermont-style cheddar, candied bacon, and arugula on a housemade brioche roll slathered with blueberry-onion jam.
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“We’re not recreating anything. It’s everything you’ve seen before — just a little different,” he said.
Blu Violet, named for Rhode Island’s state flower, will also offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, starting Valentine’s Day weekend. Their brunch menu has not yet been unveiled, but like in the Aloft’s lobby bar, “WXYZ,” live tunes will be a staple during brunch times.
Eugène said the restaurant plans to work with other local chefs for “collaboration” nights and pop-ups. Their first will be with Chef Brynn Gibson, who is from Providence and was a contestant on Season 20 of “Hell’s Kitchen” with Chef Gordon Ramsay. (She took 4th place.)
Blu Violet’s cocktail program, designed by beverage director Steven Simas, starts with Lavender Fields ($12) which is Hendricks Gin and St. Germain shaken with fresh lemon and a lavender syrup. The Bittered Berry Bubbles ($13) combines Grey Goose Vodka, a jammy strawberry syrup, fresh lemon, and citrus bitters with sparkling soda.
“Pick Me Up” ($14) is a play on the classic espresso martini, but with Maker’s Mark, Kahlúa, cold brew, and Amaro Montenegro.
Simas said he plans on incorporating more bottles from local distilleries by spring, when Blu Violet’s outdoor roof deck fully opens. And similarly to the food menu, the drinks menu will be updated regularly.
With the backdrop of the city’s skyline, including the iconic Superman building, Eugène says he thinks that Haitian food and fusion has the potential “to explode” in Providence.
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“Not just how it’s originally or traditionally done. We can deconstruct what we know of a dish and re-introduce this culture and these flavors to the people here,” said Eugène.
Blu Violet is located at the Aloft Hotel in Downtown Providence at 191 Dorrance Street. They are open Thursdays through Sundays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Restaurant updates and specials will be posted on their Instagram.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.
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