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A Haitian-style Christmas


A Haitian-style Christmas

Chef Paul Toussaint from the restaurant Kamúy is here to put us in the holiday spirit. He recounts stories of his Christmases in Haiti as a child, the feasts he now cooks for his family, and the recipe for his famous rum and pineapple ham—served with ti-punch, of course.

Published on August 1, 2023

When Paul Toussaint thinks back to his childhood Christmases in Jacmel, Haiti, the first thing that comes to mind is the music. “Everyone blasted Christmas music in their homes. No one has windows in the Caribbean, so it becomes a battle of the decibels!” He also remembered the candles they lit and, most of all, the feast they enjoyed. Everyone in the family had their speciality dish: rum and pineapple ham, lasagna, djon djon rice (“Djon djon are Haiti’s truffles!”), onion tart (“Flaky pastry with béchamel, lardon and onions. It’s out of this world!”), and turkey with spices. “In Jamaica they call it ‘jerk’ and in Latin America, ‘mojo,’ but in Haiti, we say ‘epis.’ It’s a mix of onion, garlic, bell peppers, thyme and parsley, plus some lime, vinegar or bitter orange juice,” he explained.

For dessert, they brush a dry cake with kremas, a drink made with coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, rum, and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg (“It’s kind of like eggnog.”), or they indulged in a rum and fruit upside-down cake. “The kids would go off in a corner to savour some cake. Just one slice made our day!” said the chef of Kamúy, with a twinkle in his eye. Though he now calls Montreal home, Paul learned to make many of these delicious dishes during his childhood in Haiti.

“I was both lucky and unlucky. When I was 7, my family moved to Quebec, but I stayed back in Haiti. My guardian would cook meals for the week on Saturdays, and one day, she said, ‘If you learned to cook, at least you could help me out.’ So, while the other kids played soccer, I was in the kitchen. I had to do it, but I enjoyed it.”

A passion for cooking

That’s how a young Paul learned to make Haitian specialties, many of which are now on the menu at Kamúy. This includes the fried fish with sauce, griot (braised pork shoulder), tassot cabrit (fried pieces of goat meat), and his favourite dish of all, which is simply called legim—a stew made with eggplant, chayote, cabbage and carrots, plus either seafood, pork or beef.

It wasn’t until years later, after he joined his family in Montreal, that Paul found his calling. He was a law student at the time and spent his spare time watching the French TV show Les Chefs! and the Food Network. “I liked to cook, but I never considered doing it for a living,” he shared. “One day, I woke up and said to my dad, ‘I want to do something else.’” And as they say, the rest is history. After training at the prestigious Toqué! restaurant and leading the kitchen staff at Agrikol, he opened his own spot in 2020 at Place des Festivals, and that’s how Kamúy was born. He gives all the credit to his guardian, who taught him everything he knows. “She truly gave me a gift, because now it’s my life, my passion,” said the man who now makes a point of teaching his own two children how to cook.

Tourtière and a pineapple ham

The leaves had barely begun to turn red, but Paul was already contemplating what to stock in his “holiday wine box”—and that’s not even counting his fruit and rum upside-down cake, which he makes two months ahead of time. Nowadays, he splits his time during the holidays between Montreal, the Caribbean and Boston, where his sister-in-law lives. Certain Quebec classics like tourtière make an appearance on his own table, but he still honours the traditions from his childhood by serving kremas, djon djon rice, onion tart, and a rum and pineapple ham. “It’s a bone-in ham studded with cloves and cinnamon sticks. You cook it for two hours in a beautiful chicken stock with some rum, honey and pineapple. Except I use maple syrup instead of the honey! It caramelizes and makes the whole house smell simply divine.”

The chef offers Kamúy customers a takeout menu for the holidays, so they can savour some of that ham, too. In fact, many Haitian expats in Montreal order this feast every year to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Or, as he so pointedly says, “to have their bodies in Quebec and the islands on their plate!”


What do you drink with Paul’s rum and pineapple ham? “The best thing would be a cocktail like a ti-punch, planter’s punch or mojito,” he answered. If you prefer wine, he recommends something from the Alsace or Jura regions of France for the notes of ripe fruit, or a dry white like a Sancerre or a Chablis. But his personal drink of choice is a nice glass of rum!

Rum and pineapple ham

Prep time 30 à 45 minutes

Cook time 1h30 to 2h 

Portions 8 -10

For more cooking inspirations, visit our recipe section.

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