Achieving the Dream: Calixte Cooks With Salt, Pepper, Love, and AffectionDec 27, 2022 08:21AM ● By Dave Zorko
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
The fragrant aroma of simmering stew floats from the kitchen to the entryway as Wilson Calixte unlatches the front door of his home. Herbs and spices mingle with a warm greeting from Calixte—chef and owner of Omaha’s Le Voltaire French Restaurant at 569 N 155th Plaza. He sits down to describe his journey to the metro, one that began in distant Haiti, where his love of food began at his mother’s side.
“She would always tell me if I [kept] up my grades, she would cook for me. That was the way of me bonding with my mom,” Calixte recalled.
As a young man, Calixte would travel with his family to sample the cosmopolitan cuisine of New York City. After the passing of his father, he moved to New York in 1990 to live with his eldest sister. His entry into the restaurant business was as a dishwasher at a now-closed soul food restaurant, Five Spot, in Brooklyn. Paying his bills and his dues with hot suds eventually led to graduating to line cook. However, his career accelerated with a move to a liquor store-turned-French fusion restaurant, aptly named Liquor.
When the head chef departed in 2006, Calixte stepped in as the chef of both its locations while maintaining his catering business, Travel Chef. The catering proved to be a lifeline for Calixte, as both Liquor locations faced closure, and he was able to leverage the business to remain in his desired profession.
“Food is my passion,” Calixte noted.
Another love—his wife, Tonya, whom he met while in New York—led Calixte to the metro when she took up a teaching post in Omaha in 2010. There, Calixte's chef’s knife found a home at an Old Market staple, V. Mertz.
“I stayed at V. Mertz for about a month, and a friend of mine that was working there told me about an opening at Le Voltaire,” he said.
Calixte connected with then-head chef/owner, Cedric Fichepain.
“[Cedric] gave me a mystery basket” containing steak and vegetables as materials to demonstrate his culinary skills, Calixte said. He passed the test. “[In June 2010] he hired me, and after three months I became the sous chef. Once he opened the bakery [Le Petit Paris, next door to Le Voltaire, in 2013]...I started running the whole kitchen.”
“It has always been a dream of mine to own my own business. Before the pandemic, I told myself, I’m giving myself three more years. Either I own my own restaurant or I move back to the East Coast,” he confessed.
The dream was fully realized in August 2021 when Calixte—the dedicated and knowledgeable chef of Le Voltaire of 11 years—became Calixte, chef/owner of Le Voltaire.
“[When] you have a dream, you have a passion, but [sometimes] you’re not sure how you’re going to get to the next level. The American dream is not easy to get…but if you work hard…dreams can come true,” he said.
Omaha Chef Jamil Djibril Bah-Traore of House of Bah said of Calixte: “He is resilient, determined, and passionate about his craft. His journey to ownership of Le Voltaire is like the kind you read in books or watch in movies.”
That dream is something that Calixte is living day to day, working to balance his scaling business with precious hours spent with family.
“As a person, he is one of the most giving, loving, and unselfish people that I have met in my life,” Bah-Traore said.
“Life is all about learning. You never stop learning 'til you die,” Calixte affirmed.
Calixte has core Le Voltaire dishes on the menu, though his creativity receives ample breadth—fusing classical French cuisine with Caribbean, African, and an array of continent-spanning flavors.
“I want people to enjoy the experience. When they come to Voltaire, they think of me, but it’s a place where people could make it their home,” Calixte said. “Salt, pepper, love, and affection.”