Reader Mail: Chef Creole Responds

Chef Creole Responds

Tell the full story: People can read your profile about me ("How He Rolls," Emily Codik, August 1), see me with these five restaurants, driving this nice car, appearing on a few cooking shows, and kicking it with my celebrity clientele and think that I got it made. What they don't see is the real story of me busting my butt and grinding every day to survive the gritty restaurant business over these last 20 years. They don't realize how hands-on I am getting up at 5 a.m. every day to do all of the shopping for all of the restaurants to managing the distribution, dealing with customer service, and still having to create a great product for each and every customer.

I don't have all of these accolades and more than 30 plaques and the keys to the city of two municipalities for nothing.

Wilkinson Sejour, AKA Chef Creole, is no fly-by-night success story. I'm thankful for all of the opportunities, and I'm what you call a true hard-knock story. So let's set the record straight and tell it like it really is.

Even though I grew up in the Buena Vista section of Little Haiti, which is now the Design District, I didn't grow up poor. Actually, my family was among the first black residents who moved to the neighborhood. My grandfather owned the first seafood market in Little Haiti, and I worked there as a kid. So I got my entrepreneurial spirit from my family, and that would later become my inspiration to open my chain of restaurants.

I'm lucky that my family was fortunate enough to send me to private school in my earlier years and give me a good education. Going to Miami Beach High School was a great opportunity for me to be around kids who weren't from my neighborhood and helped me formed some great friendships.

I'm very proud of my restaurants. Some people may see them as shabby or not as fancy as the South Beach or midtown establishments, but it's authentic and it gives a true Caribbean feeling. This is why all types of people love and appreciate Chef Creole and why I have the relationships that I have.

And it's because of those good relationships that Chef Creole has been successful and has stood the test of time over these last 20 years. What people don't know is that I didn't go to the banks. With just some start-up money from my grandfather, I structured owner-financing deals with property owners based off of relationships, paid those notes off, and now I own the buildings.

Everything I have has been through hard work and effort. I would be crazy not to take advantage of having a cooking show on the Food Network and share the national spotlight with Anthony Bourdain, Bobby Flay, or Emeril Lagasse. It would be a dream come true to represent my heritage on national TV and inspire young kids from the inner city or even a Haitian kid like myself to want to be in the culinary business. I had to take a step back and realize that I would be under the scrutiny of the network. While I do have plenty of successful friends, I also have some dear friends who have checkered pasts, and doing the show would mean I would have to disassociate myself from them. So I wasn't willing to lose those friendships. Yes, I've made some minor mistakes as a youth like most other youths, and that's the reason I always find time in my superbusy schedule to give back to youths, talk to them about the culinary profession, and support programs like the Little Haiti Optimist Club, the Overtown Youth Center, and North Miami Senior High School's boys' basketball team. I understand the value of giving youths the opportunity to see positive success stories, because I have 13 kids all by my wife, and they're all A students, with one on the way to college.

I employ more than 50 people and make it a point to support the communities where my restaurants are located. In fact, when one of the stores was struggling and the easy way out would have been to close it, I made the tough decision of keeping it open because I didn't like the idea of anyone being out of work.

So, what has all of this gotten me? With more than 20 years of blood, sweat, and tears, the restaurants are doing well and my catering business is very successful. I've catered events for the City of Miami Police Department, the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office, and even celebrities. I've done Chefs for Obama — the only Haitian restaurant to participate — and have been the only featured Caribbean chef at the Hard Rock Food & Wine Festival since its inception. I've been featured on local TV segments as well as national shows and recently catered one of WE TV's Bridezillas weddings on Star Island. And on top of all of that, I continue to film my show, Chef Creole's Seasoned Kitchen.

Chef Creole is more than a cook. I'm legitimate, I'm a success, and I made it. That's the real story. Wilkinson "Chef Creole" Sejour

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Ilike Chef Creole's response he seems like a cool dude and his food is off the chain.  I saw him and Dj Kalid at his N. Miami location the other day talking business I think, but it was a good look two of Miami's finest hanging out.

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