Story by Janine MacLean
Vacay.ca Food Columnist
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Walking into Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins to meet chef Segue LePage is nerve-wracking. I’ve done my research, I’m ready to meet him, but I am also suffering from a hideous hangover thanks to my previous assignment — finding Montreal’s best Irish pub. I found it, but at a cost. I hope he doesn’t notice.
It’s a Monday afternoon, and I find his cooks in the tiny open kitchen, preparing for a busy dinner service. LePage shakes my hand with a steely look and I wonder if this interview is going to be a nuisance to him. He motions me over to a table and pours me a glass of water.
Looking around the room I see a lot of perfection. Clean lines, modern but rustic and warm wood furnishings create a stylish and welcoming atmosphere. Having worked in an open kitchen I am always intrigued to see how it looks from the diner’s perspective and this kitchen is even more transparent than most. There are no heating lamp shelves hiding the cooks’ faces. In fact, I’ve never seen a kitchen with so little storage space. I haven’t even started the interview with LePage and he’s already taught me a lesson in kitchen minimalism.
His restaurant seats 44 and is located in the trendy Mont Royal neighbourhood in Montreal. Since opening last year, the restaurant and LePage have received rave reviews from diners and critics alike. Every Montrealer I met over my weekend visit raved about LePage’s fabulous menu, which specializes in charcuterie and organic wines. I asked him what makes his charcuterie different from the countless other restaurants specializing in the product these days.
“I work with all kinds of charcuterie that is just really, really classic. I’m not interested in the new stuff, I just like a good chorizo and like to use really, really good pork — those kind of things. All of my smaller meats are aged for only four to five weeks and all of the bigger pieces are aged for eight to nine weeks”.
Although LePage is a francophone and I am (embarrassingly) monolingual, he has no trouble making me understand why he does what he does. I soon learn that this man is obsessed with using fresh, pure ingredients and cooking with love.
Having worked in Vancouver as Circa’s executive chef, he left the west coast to come “home” to Montreal in 2011 (his actual hometown is in rural Quebec). LePage knew he could be successful in Montreal. He had friends all over the city, and although he loved British Columbia (“I could live there forever,” he maintains) he settled on Montreal to open Le Comptoir. A smart move, since he is at the top of his game in this city of charcuterie connoisseurs.
MONTREAL CHARCUTERIE RESTAURANT SHINES
The more LePage tells me about his food, the more excited he gets. He is looking forward to working with more farms in Quebec and Ontario as he starts to expand his menu — particularly to include his own selection of dried hams. The pork he currently uses is ideal for multi-purpose charcuterie, being a blended breed from Quebec.
“It’s like an industrial pork, but with a lot of good stuff. Its food is a mix of grains and yoghurt. The meat has a lot of marble and the texture is really impressive.”
Indeed, the pork is not the only thing patrons are talking about. Le Comptoir boasts that it only carries natural, organic wines from Europe and North America. Having tried organic wines with unimpressive results, I wonder if serving only such wines is more work than it’s worth.
“It’s a lot of different work. With the natural wine it’s really tough because they are always changing. You can open a bottle today and then open the same wine after three days and it’s totally different. Sometimes the sommelier can just try a wine to make sure it tastes good, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Although a bottle may get tossed on occasion, the all-natural wine selection has been successful for LePage.
In the operations of his restaurant, LePage demands perfection and deplores time wasting. Not unusual for a chef. It’s that emphasis on excellence and efficiency that has most attributed to his success — not to mention his skill with turning a pig into something other-worldly.
It’s not often in the culinary industry that a restaurant thrives with popularity and rave reviews within its first year of opening. There’s no doubt that the early success of Le Comptoir is the result of a chef with a strong vision and the skill needed to thrill the people of Montreal.
MORE ABOUT LE COMPTOIR CHARCUTERIES ET VINS
Address: 4807 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montréal, QC.
Contact: Telephone: 514-844-8467; website: comptoircharcuteriesetvins.ca
Menu: Dinner prices for share plates range from $9-$35.
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Note: Photo courtesy of Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins.