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
Don't worry, be happy: After reading about all the vitriol and anger surrounding the Critical Mass bike ride ("Collision Course, Michael E. Miller, August 1), it's hard for me to believe that I moved to Florida thinking people here are more conscious and civilized than the place where I come from. I have a car, I had two motorcycles, and now I ride a bike to keep my self healthy and enjoy the ride with my family. I always have respected the transit rules and laws. I understand the frustration of everyone who got stuck in a traffic jam because of Critical Mass, but to go from there to saying you are going to run over a person is crazy. That says a lot about the values and humanity of the people commenting on this story. This should not be a war between one side or the other. I believe Critical Mass should be more organized and simply get the help of the police so the organizers can plan the routes and make the event a happy experience for both sides. Instead of criticizing them, why don't we look for options to make the ride better? All of you should sit down and really look inside yourselves, because the world is as crazy and awful as it is because of the lack of love and understanding. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Avcaro9573
Middle finger to drivers: If drivers were as much scofflaws as cyclists are, either during Critical Mass or not, there would be 70 dead bikers a week. The cyclists' attitude is not one of sharing the road pragmatically; it is rather one of owning the road with a big middle finger extended during Critical Mass. Alexander Fernandez
Miami roads suck: News flash: Every single day, our roads are clogged with cars idling in traffic, usually because of crashes and incessant driver errors. Every day, roads and highways are shut down to extract someone's bloody body from a mangled car wreck. Don't act like Critical Mass, which happens once a month for an hour, is the only thing delaying drivers in this godforsaken, traffic-ridden clusterfuck of a city. Give the ride a try. It's one of the few moments you can enjoy the beauty of this place in relative safety without being confined to a metal canister. Cpchester
Obey the law: Cyclists should also remember they're subject to the same traffic laws as cars. If everyone paid attention while on the road, whether on a bike, in a car, on a scooter, whatever, it could only make things safer and better for all out there. Layssa Ma Zamora-Pérez
Single-use roads: The main problem is that this issue pits cars against cyclists in such a way that both sides overreach in their demands. Every mode of getting around, including walking, needs to have its own separate path, period. An 18-wheel tractor-trailer can't mix with bicycles, and pedestrians can't mix with motorized vehicles. The paths have to be single-use, either designated by design or allocated during specific times. I've seen many parkways for cars closed in sections on Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. until noon, for instance, to allow bicycles only. frankd4
Where we're headed: I can see it now — a giant monster truck and an angry Miami driver pummeling through a sea of bicyclists. Critical Mass massacre, coming soon. Michael Marrero
City needs to help: As a cyclist, I've realized the responsibility goes both ways. Motorists have no consideration for bikers, and bikers have no respect for traffic laws. I've seen it. Bikers think they own the street. But for those who want to respect the traffic laws, it is difficult to move in the city when there is no space for us to ride safely. Twisted_Sister
Got to be a better way: Isn't there a way to bring attention to the bicycle scene and sharing the road without causing the traffic nightmare on a Friday night? For instance, couldn't they break up the mass into intervals? I think Critical Mass is great, but it has grown tremendously. Maybe some more organization would help. Jay Lee Mendez
Respect the rules: I'm in favor of events like this. But any other event of this nature and size would be coordinated with the city from the start. When there is no organization and cyclists are going the wrong way down a one-way street, it is no longer an event but a free-for-all. Respect the rules of the road and you'll gain more respect. As a cyclist, I know how badly this city needs to learn it. Kristina Jones Barahona
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.