Brooklyn’s own Chef Wesly highlights Haitian heritage

Haitian Chef Wesly Jean Simon.   Zanmi NYC/Playbook MG
Haitian Chef Wesly Jean Simon.
Zanmi NYC/Playbook MG

Haitian-born Chef Wesly Jean Simon moved to New York as a youth. He took an interest in culinary arts early on in his upbringing and learned by watching his mom.

By nine years old, he could cook a full Sunday dinner. He would eventually return to Haiti to learn the techniques and routines of the chefs back home.

After working with butchers and rural cooks, he understood the magic behind blending influences, and returned inspired and better prepared for his next big venture.

According to Sarah A. Freiseis, special projects manager at PlaybookMG, a Brooklyn-based entertainment publicity company, Chef Wesly created his interpretations of the dishes for the restaurant he opened in 2020 called Zanmi, located in the little Caribbean neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Chef Wesly Jean Simon, owner of Zanmi NYC.

“The culture of Haiti is an eclectic mix of African, Taino and European elements due to the French colonization of Saint Domingue,” Freiseis said. “He chose this name because friendship is all about energy, and he wanted to present that energy to Zanmi.

“The menu is also written in Creole, while the descriptions are English to keep that Haitian atmosphere,” she added. “The most crucial Haitian holiday is carnival, where the music, culture and food are celebrated.”

Freiseis said Chef Wesly utilizes Zanmi as a gathering place and platform for the people.

“He usually hosts movie nights for films on Haiti’s history and culture, and live music every Thursday through Sunday,” she said.

“These are things we do to help people feel at home,” Chef Wesly said.

Freiseis said the chef “has done a great job bringing his culture to Brooklyn and allowing his guests to experience what it’s like to be a part of the Haitian community.”

She said Chef Wesly is particularly active in participating and hosting events in May for Haitan Flag Day on the 18th and celebrations during Haitian Heritage Month.