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For many patrons of Ansanm, dining at the cozy restaurant in Milford, N.H. is their first time trying Haitian food. That’s part of the point. Head chef and owner Chris Viaud created the space to be an educational experience — the walls are lined with traditional art and photographs showcasing and celebrating Viaud’s culture — and, of course, to serve delicious food.
Opened in October of 2022, Ansanm is Viaud’s third New Hampshire restaurant.
Following his passion — and his taste buds
Originally from Randolph, Mass., Viaud honed his culinary skills at Johnson and Wales University, before working his way up in the Boston fine dining scene, including a three-year stint at Deuxave in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Along the way, he adopted techniques and wisdom from every chef and restaurateur he worked with, building him into the chef he is today.
Still, Viaud wanted something to call his own. This dream led him to renovate an old bank into Greenleaf, a farm-to-table restaurant located in the heart of downtown Milford.
Several factors — both personal and professional — influenced his choice to open his first restaurant in New Hampshire. After countless long days in Boston kitchens, Viaud was looking for a location with a relaxing side. “It’s been a great way to escape all the hustle and bustle,” Viaud says. “And especially just working in the industry, knowing how hectic and chaotic it can be. The last thing you want to do is go back out into so much commotion.”
Family is another reason Viuad chose Milford. In fact, both he and his wife’s family hail from the Granite State, so when they decided they wanted to start a family of their own, moving was a no-brainer.
“Thinking forward, we knew we would need a bigger house with more space,” says Viaud. “And for what we could afford. So making the move to New Hampshire just felt right.”
The quality of the area’s locally grown produce also appealed to Viaud as a chef. Inspired by the seasonality of New England, Viaud now partners with 14 local artisans to bring the Granite State’s best fish, cheese, vegetables, and more to diners.
“Opening Greenleaf took a big leap,” says Viaud. “But my vision has always been to educate others in the community on the importance of supporting local, how that helps the economy, and sharing the farmers’ story.” Viaud’s locally sourced dishes at Greenleaf earned him a semifinalist spot for the 2022 James Beard Awards for best emerging chef.
Sharing heritage through food
After competing on season 18 of “Top Chef,” Viaud felt inspired to dive deeper into his own heritage through food. He began a pop-up series at Greenleaf called Ansanm – a word meaning “together” in Haitian Creole – at which the restaurant would serve the traditional Haitian food that Viaud had grown up eating, but never cooking himself.
After a year and a half of pop-ups, Anamn opened their brick-and-mortar location. “It’s been an incredible journey to see how far we’ve come,” says Viaud. “My vision for the future is to continue on that path and dive deeper into food as it relates to the African diaspora and how Haitian food and culture can continue to evolve.”
For Viaud, food has a strong, unequivocal tie to family. Ansanm’s dedication to serving authentic Haitian cuisine stems from Viaud’s own desire to celebrate food by passing down his family’s recipes. Many of the recipes he serves, such as poule nan sos (stewed chicken in creole sauce) or labouyi (a dessert porridge seasoned with cinnamon and star anise), come from his mother’s recipe book.
Other dishes are inspired by his Caribbean ancestors. One of these dishes on the menu at Ansanm is “soup joumou,” a squash and root vegetable stew traditionally made by enslaved Haitians for their masters. When Haiti gained independence in 1804, the country began to make it for themselves, symbolizing their new found freedom. Now Haitians eat it every January 1 to commemorate their history. You can sample it year-round at Ansanm – Viaud and his team make it in ten-gallon batches.
Community support Ansanm
While one might not think of New Hampshire as the typical home for Haitian fine dining, it was precisely the lack thereof that pushed Viaud to open up his restaurants. “I wanted to use my skills and expertise, all these tricks and techniques from the city, to be able to apply that to offer something new and unique to the state,” he says.
And so far the reception has been amazing, according to Viaud. From the pop-ups to the physical restaurant, residents of Milford and beyond seem to be loving the new taste. Viaud sees repeat customers, people bringing in their friends and family, and the community theme of the restaurant coming to life in the dining experience. Viaud lights up as he speaks about the impact seeing his vision become a reality has on him.
“There’s so much interest in learning about and appreciating different cultures and cuisines that we’re starting to see,” he says. “And I think we’re gonna continue to see more. The community within the surrounding area has been open and inviting, as well as trying to hear our stories, which has been really heartwarming for myself and I know my parents too.”
While Viaud certainly has no plans on slowing down any time soon, he is looking forward to spending some more time with his family now that Ansanm has opened its doors. Days off in the restaurant world are rare, but when he does have a free weekend or afternoon, he might be spending it apple picking with his daughter or working on maintaining his property.
But still, managing Ansanm, Greenleaf, and whatever culinary adventure comes next never quite seems like work to Viaud because of his love for what he does. Each of his endeavors comes back to community, education, and good food.
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