From Haiti with love: Caribbean cooking in Portland

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Local programs helped entrepreneur Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson scale up her business

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson first arrived in Portland, she noticed something missing: the great food of her home country, Haiti.

“When I arrive here, I was looking for some food, Haitian food, Caribbean food, and I couldn’t find anything. So I find there is an opportunity to do something part of the community, it’s a diverse community,” she told KOIN 6 News.

Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson took her business from farmer’s market, to food cart, to store shelves thanks to local educational programs for business. February 18, 2020 (Danny Peterson/KOIN).

Aurélien-Wilson was able to find her path to establish and grow her food-centered small business thanks to Portland Mercado, a Southeast Portland food cart pod and non-profit that assists Latino businesses.

Originally Aurélien-Wilson sold her products at local farmer’s markets, then she opened her own food cart. With Portland Mercado’s help, she opened a second location at their food cart pod.

The non-profit was then able to secure her a scholarship to attend a Portland Community College program called Getting Your Recipe to Market.

“That help me boost my knowledge about how to package. So I realize instead of selling my food and my beverage at the food cart, I can package and have it available for a bigger audience,” Aurélien-Wilson explained.

Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson has brought her signature hibiscus and ginger to local grocery stores like New Seasons and Food Fight. February 18, 2020 (Danny Peterson/KOIN).

Mathilde’s Kitchen has since done away with the food cart format and is now a wholesaler of a pre-packaged ginger hibiscus drink for local grocery stores and a catering service. Offerings include dishes such as roasted pork, chicken pumpkin soup and fried plantains. She still uses Portland Mercado’s shared commercial kitchen space for her business.

Aurélien-Wilson and her husband Bruce Wilson previously started the first school at her home village in Haiti before moving to Portland in 2013.

Called La Renaissance Elementary School in the hillside village of Au Cenre, the school started as nothing more than a shack but has since grown to a prominent building of the village.

“It wasn’t that easy because with nothing available, no running water, no electricity,” it was difficult to get teachers to come in, Aurélien-Wilson said.

Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson and her husband Bruce Wilson helped start the first school in her home village in Haiti. (Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson).

Eventually, they worked out a system where professional teachers would come in to train the local villagers to teach.

The school now partners with the Haitian government to help run it.

“We have them taking over the school. We still oversee what’s going on. But at least they’re taking on with the curriculum, with the teacher, the daily supervising, I cannot do it,” Aurelian-Wilson said.

Previously to moving to Portland, the entrepreneur lived in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

However, when the devastating 2010 earthquake struck Haiti, where many of Aurélien-Wilson’s friends and family still lived, she took a plane over there the next day.

She helped set up a camp in her sister’s backyard to facilitate emergency medical attention with 30 volunteers.

Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson partnered with volunteer medics to create a treatment camp after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. (Mathilde Aurélien-Wilson).

“We were right there where people couldn’t reach the bigger hospital, the bigger care and we were trying our best,” Aurélien-Wilson recalled.

She says in the future for her business she wants to produce more flavors for her beverage line and become a Farm to School food provider for public schools in Oregon.

“Amazingly, not only Caribbean people like the food, I find people that from many other sides of the world, when they taste it, they tell me it reminds me of their home food, their mom’s food,” Aurélien-Wilson said.

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