Cynthia “Chef Thia” Verna is a dynamic and vivacious personality. She is a culinary expert specializing in gourmet Caribbean-fusion cuisine, an accomplished author, a seasonal artist and soon-to-be national cooking show host.
Although today Chef Thia is known for infusing Caribbean, African, Latin, Asian, French and Mediterranean flavors into her Haitian fine dining repertoire, her culinary career began in Haiti at the age of 8. There, in her grandmother’s kitchen, her passion for creating inventive dishes was ignited. That passion led her to become a chef in her mother’s restaurant by the age of 17, and not long after opening her own restaurant – Atelier Les Bamboos. She mastered the art of Haitian cuisine, studying under Haitian top chef Reginald Koury, then working at the prestigious Club Med before moving to the United States at 21.
Chef Thia went on to graduate Cum Laude from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in her new home of Miami, Florida. After her success in the employ of two Ritz Carlton franchises, she decided to go out on her own and in 2008 her catering company Chef Thia’s Cuisine was born. Since then, Chef Thia has represented Haitian cuisine at Expo Milano in Italy, prepared meals for Haitian Consuls in Italy and Suriname, and for Haiti’s President Michel Martelly. She has also participated three times in renown Haitian Food and Spirits Festival Goût est Saveur and twice in Miami’s Taste of Haiti events.
In 2014 Cynthia’s first memoir Ordeals was published. It chronicles some of the harrowing physical violations she experienced at the hands of trusted associates growing up in Haiti. Cynthia wrote the book, currently being translated into Spanish and Creole, to help empower assault survivors to speak out against abuse. Since participating in landmark Haitian book fair Livre en Folie in its 21st installment, Ordeals has become a bestseller in that country.
Chef Thia will make her debut as co-host of a national US television show in April 2016 when the second season of Caribbean cooking series Taste the Islands premieres. Produced by South Florida media house Blondie Ras Productions, Taste the Islands is the only national Caribbean cooking show in public television’s repertoire. In the 13 part series, Chef Thia’s vibrant personality and love of simple, fresh, creole-infused cuisine shines through.
Chef Thia has been consulting with American food service giant Aramark since 2010, and has been published in several magazines and newspapers including Le Nouveliste, Ticket Magazine, Viv Magazine, the Miami Herald, Fleur D’epices and Modern Flavor Magazine.
She currently lives in Miami with her 3 children and spends a few months each year focusing on her unique brand of bottle art.
What motivated you to start your business?
I am slightly rebellious. I have loved food and cooking since I was very young but chefs were looked down upon where I grew up in Haiti. I had lots of respect for the craft of cooking and the hard work it involved, so I decided to go against the standard and take my love of cooking to the next level. I went for my culinary degree and then I started my own business.
As a Haitian woman in business, what are the challenges you faced as a business owner and how do you overcome them?
I don’t like to think about challenges but as a mother, the one that I will share with you is balancing caring for my kids with taking care of my business. Otherwise, I try to think only of positives. I’m very spiritual so I look at any challenge that comes my way as an opportunity to become stronger.
How does your business relate to the Haiti or Haitian community?
I am the heart and soul of my business. I touch every ingredient in every dish I serve, so when a client enjoys Chef Thia’s Cuisine, they are enjoying the roots, culture and spirit from Haiti that I bring to my food.
In your opinion, why is it important for the Haitian community to support Haitian owned businesses ?
If we don’t support each other, how do we expect others to support us? The Haitian-American community is strong, creative, resilient and ambitious. We represent Haiti. We are Haiti’s future and by supporting each other, we are also promoting the home country we all love so much.
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