Story by Parmjit Parmar
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Some cities have a certain energy that draws you back over and over again. In the United States, it’s New York, Chicago and New Orleans. Montreal holds that allure for many visitors, beckoning them to return as often as possible to experience the European flair of its art, culture and exceptional cuisine — with the added bonus of an exciting bar life that continues into the wee hours of the morning.
For me, the lure of Montreal has always been about the city’s amazing food. When I heard that 2014 Montreal En Lumière festival was celebrating its 15th anniversary with some of the best chef-driven cuisine in the city I knew I had to attend.
This year’s concept for En Lumière was a collaboration between chefs and special guest personalities from different spheres, including athletes, journalists and artists, each of whom added a special brand of creativity to the gourmet menus.
Here are a few of the standouts from En Lumiere’s Culinary Explorations:
Oysters and Champagne at Apollo
Who doesn’t love a good Oyster and Champagne pairing? My dining companions and I ventured out in downtown Montreal to Apollo, located in a converted old church, to sample its New England and Prince Edward Island oysters. Greeted by owners Daren Bergeron and Giovanni Apollo we were welcomed into the welcoming low-lit restaurant. The bar was adorned with “food art” of shaved beets, seaweed and gourds, a unique scene that set the mood for an evening of gastronomic exploration.
The oysters, served with a dollop topping of horseradish, were simply divine. Our shucker was Tom Brodi, former executive chef of Toca at the Ritz Carlton, Toronto.
Location: 1333 University Street (between St. Catherine and Maisonneuve East)
Chez l’Épicier in Vieux Montreal
Going on a Montreal cuisine adventure without tasting some of the city’s best foie gras is scandalous. Chez l’Épicier is headed by executive chef Laurent Godbout, who has served as Quebec’s culinary ambassador on the world stage. Godbout has amalgamated a grocery store, restaurant and wine bar into his already impressive culinary portfolio that includes having worked at 15 renowned establishments, some under the Relais & Chateaux banner.
Chez l’Épicier offered a nine-course tasting menu as part of the En Lumière program. The sublime foie gras, served in a little skillet pot, is sautéed with extra virgin olive oil along with fingerling potatoes and matched with an excellent Sauterne (sweet wine) from France. Godbout’s presentation of the amuse bouche is artistic with a veal bone slitted to hold the most beautiful pumpernickel wafer with foam mousse and cheese.
Another standout was the Norwegian cod prepared with olive oil, carrot broth and soft wheat, and little Shanghai “hearts.” Each course is matched with a fitting wine. If you have a weakness for well executed desserts, Chez l’Épicier is heaven sent. The handmade macarons are beyond delicious and the vanilla-maple snowballs with cranberry mousse ball with two types of mousse foam are also sweet and incredible.
Location: 311 rue Saint-Paul Est
Plating Art at Le Germain’s Laurie Rafael
Daniel Vézina, chef and owner at Hotel le Germain’s Laurie Rafael restaurant, and ceramist Pascale Girardin have perfected the artist-and-chef collaboration with their visually impressive collection. Around the hotel, Girardin’s art pieces caught my eye when I visited for lunch.
I learned Girardin has been creating high-end dishware and architectural design pieces globally for the luxury hospitality industry since 2007. She told me that recently her art commissions were installed at the Four Season’s Shanghai and Harry Winston’s in New York. Girardin discussed her collaboration with Vézina, mentioning that the celebrity chef suggested making the ceramic dishes first and then he would “create the menu around her dishes.”
“The heart of the matter” is the elegant final result of their collaboration. The “Coquetier” dish features a black-shelled egg and holder, the egg filled with scrambled egg and espuma. The oblong ceramic is filled with veal bone marrow, marinated carrot and mushrooms in ravigote sauce. Both dishes were almost too beautiful to eat.
Location: 2050 Mansfield Street (inside Le Germain Hotel)
Montreal Foodie Tours
I met up with Ronald Poire to do a food tour around Montreal. Poire has been leading guests for more than 10 years with Food Tours Montreal. He is contagiously passionate about what’s happening around the city and how different cultures have influenced the food scene. “English foods are in vogue,” Poire said of one of Montreal’s current food trends with entrée’s like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and other traditional English foods gaining popularity.
For example, the Burgundy Lion in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood has adapted to providing modern English pub grub along with traditional English cuisine with a laid-back, quintessentially Montreal feel. Poire also commented about how the influx of Asian students at local universities has led to many new Asian-inspired restaurants.
The Little Burgundy area around Marche Atwater, one of Montreal’s many great public markets, is growing as condos sprout up. Like Toronto, the local culinary scene is thriving with gourmands travelling distances to obtain distinct and delicious products.
La Fromagerie Atwater
La Fromagerie has been open since 1972 at Marche Atwater. In 1983, Gilles Jourdenais took over the business from his father. The shop has grown from six employees and 25 cheeses, and is now carrying 900 cheeses and 70 employees. It also has three retail stores throughout Montreal along with a wholesale department that sells cheese to the Toronto region. At their ideally situated Atwater market location Jourdenais has noticed younger Montrealers more often shopping for gourmet cheeses.
On the market’s second floor you can buy some of the best cuts of meat in Montreal. It’s in this area of the market where restaurants find vendors to supply their kitchens with duck, pork, chicken and beef.
Location: 138 Atwater Avenue (corner of Notre-Dame and Atwater)
The bustling Patrice Patissier, also located in Little Burgundy, is the first foray of renowned pastry chef Patrice Demers and his fiancee, sommelière Marie-Josée Beaudouin. The star of a Quebec web TV food show, Demers has been a culinary standout for more than 15 years. Demers left his co-owned restaurant Les 400 Coups — ranked No. 8 in the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide — to pursue this current venture, where he is offering classic light lunches and classroom lessons on the art of making pastries.
On the weekends there will be a dessert bar, along with savoury bites and an accompanying wine list. At the shop, the pastry menu will be seasonal. Demers’ signature pastry, the “kouign amman,” is a buttery, flaky, crunchy delight that simply melts in your mouth.
Location: 2360 Notre-Dame West, Local 104
MORE ABOUT MONTREAL EN LUMIERE
Website: Visit Montréal en Lumière or Tourism Montreal websites for more information.
16th Edition: Mark the following dates in your calendar: The 2015 Montreal en Lumiere event takes place February 19 to March 1.
More Coverage: See spectacular photos and read more about Montreal en Lumiere in this post from Vacay.ca’s Julia Pelish.