“Chopped” Champion Ivan Dorvil speaks on Diversity in the Culinary World
He starts his days at 7 a.m. and doesn’t finish until 1 a.m. the next day. He hasn’t had a vacation in over two years and cooks every meal for every guest at his Asian-Caribbean fusion restaurant Ivan’s Cookhouse in North Miami. Chef Ivan Dorvil is a self-proclaimed workaholic and even with tremendous success, he refuses to slow down.
Chef Ivan is a Chopped Champion and has appeared on Food Network shows including Cutthroat Kitchen and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. He was also a private chef to Lionel Richie, Patti Labelle, Lenny Kravitz.
For Chef Ivan Dorvil failure was never an option. A black man and a Haitian immigrant in Miami is no stranger to “working twice as hard to get half as much”– a phrase often used by minorities to convey the systematic racial inequality in the workplace in America; a fact especially present in the very White and European-Dominated Culinary industry.
“I can see why so many black chefs have issues climbing up the ranks.” Chef Ivan said through his thick Haitian Creole accent. “This industry is full of chefs that don’t want you to succeed. If I tried to get a job today in a restaurant with my resume, no one would hire me. They would think their job is at risk.”
His confidence borders on arrogance, but he has a presence that is full of electricity and chaos. Conversely, like watching a maestro in concert, Chef Ivan moves around in his open kitchen with a practiced and taciturn intensity; greeting every guest like an old friend as they enter his restaurant.
“In many [Miami] restaurants, the chefs I see that have the most talent, and are the most under-appreciated, are the Haitian chefs. All of the beautiful flavors you taste probably don’t come from the executive chef— he probably doesn’t know how to make a good Demi Glaze or a good Beurre Blanc. It’s the [Haitian] guy who’s been learning for years, that they keep in the back, that is underpaid, undervalued, and under-appreciated, that brings that beautiful food to the front of house,” he said.
Chef Ivan was once that under-appreciated hard working chef but he refused to remain in the shadows. With perseverance and the help of Alex Maddock his General Manager/Business Partner, they opened Ivan’s Cookhouse in 2014.
“I used to think that nursing and the medical field was hard, but there you get some time off!” Maddock said. She continues to be a home care nurse while also helping with the back of house responsibilities with Chef Ivan.
“Right now we’re open 7 days a week. When you’re starting a restaurant, you have to be here because no one is going do it as good as you.” Maddock said. “We love it. You have to love it; that’s why you do it.”
I asked Chef Ivan if this room were filled with young aspiring chefs of color, what would be some words of advice he would give to them.
“I would tell them to stay focused, learn your craft, speak the language of gastronomy, and keep reading.” He said. “Don’t ignore the black and white issue— It’s there, but you’re always going to have to deal with bigots, with ignorance, and with the uneducated, but isn’t that what makes life interesting?”
Photos by: Farah Lopez