Dec 4, 2013

Miss MAK Designs: quaint boutique on St- Laurent Boulevard

By Lydia Lawrence     

It was nearly 2:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at Miss MAK Designs; a quaint boutique on
St-Laurent Boulevard, where I was to be awarded a guided tour of the renowned family-owned handbag manufacturer, H&V Leather Goods. The company was founded in Lebanon in 1967 by two Armenian brothers, Harout and Vartan Keverian. However, the increasing chaos brought on by the Lebanese Civil War urged Harout to immigrate to Canada in 1989 along with his wife and two young children.Harout and his family settled in Montreal in 1990, where he resumed the business of handcrafted luxury goods. Since then, Harout and his wife, Arsho have undertaken the task of promoting Due Fratelli, an exclusive brand renowned for its flawless quality and timeless designs.
The tour was to be given by their daughter Mary-Ann, a childhood friend of mine, who at the age of twenty, single handedly launched her own brand of handbags which she aptly named “Miss MAK,” an acronym of her full name. At twenty-eight years of age, she is already considered to be one of the most revered women in the industry, and her customers are as much in love with her as they are with her designs.  

The buzzer went off as I opened the door and walked into the sun filled store, where I was instantly surrounded by walls lined with multicolored leather purses and accessories.

“Hello?” said a voice from the back.

I turned a corner and found mother and daughter seated gracefully at their desks. They both rose to greet me with warm hugs and kisses. They were both busy, I knew, taking note of the pile of hastily drawn sketches of germinating designs on Mary-Ann’s desk and the flood of emails blinking on her computer screen. Remarkably, her façade of cool sophistication is genuine. I couldn’t help but look her over, taking note of her perfectly groomed thick main of shiny chestnut hair that fell around her shoulders and down her back, the bold jewelry at her hands, her trim pants and designer top and the funky zebra print flats at her feet. In that moment, I concluded that Mary-Ann’s position as a creative designer was not only a title she assumed, rather she was a personification of her brand; versatile, bold and innovative.

“Do you want to have lunch now?” she asked, “or would you rather we have the tour first?”

“The tour,” I replied, full of curiosity.

“This way, darling,” she said, motioning to me with her manicured fingers.

I had never been inside a factory before, and I was taken aback by the foreign environment. It was an organized mess, with heaps of fabric clumped together between heavy machinery and assembly tables, but watching her smoothly navigate me across the threshold I could sense she was in her element. I knew close to nothing about handbag manufacturing and had neglected to do any research prior to my visit. As I was about to find out, bringing a handbag or a purse to life was a deeply involved process.

It all begins with a sketch, which a skilled pattern maker will use to create a paper model of it out of cardboard. Before this can be done however, the materials and colors must be chosen. We walked over to table strewn with identical square pieces of plastic-covered-material. Mary-Ann picked one up and removed the plastic, revealing a soft matt of baby-ostrich-printed leather with a base of blue suede.

“So, what we do,” she said, “is we get the suede and then we get the foils from Italy. This allows for many options.  So the material can either be baby ostrich, calfskin, cowhide or even a boa finish.” She guided me to the assembly table next.

“These are the assemblers,” she said, making the introductions. “What they will do is assemble the leather cutouts and stitch them all together. Once that’s done, it will go to the hardware section where the handles, zippers, pockets and any other accessories will be added. The next stage is the finishing,” she said, pointing to another table. “That’s when each product is checked for defects and then boxed and shipped.” She was making it all sound so easy, but I knew it was far from the truth.

I followed her back to the entrance of the factory and she led me back down the hall to the showroom. I walked into a bright rectangular room lined with samples of both the Due Fratelli and Miss MAK brands.
“The showroom is where I work with the retailers,” she explained.

 “So, how do you do it?” I asked. “You draw these, make samples and then sell it?”
“Exactly,” she replied. “I spent over three months on a collection for one of our current clients. All my products are guaranteed for life, so if ever a client has a damaged product and they send it back to me ten years later, I will still repair it.” I stared at her, amazed.
“And they are all light weight,” she said. “Go to any other well known brand, such as Michael Kors, Fendi, Chanel…these are some of the heaviest bags on the market. A woman should not carry more than ten percent of her body weight,” she added.  Unconsciously, I reached up and adjusted my overstuffed shoulder bag.
Miss MAK designs is also a very functional and versatile brand,” she said, holding up a cross-body purse which she easily converted into clutch and then into a belt bag.

Due Fratelli has more classic shapes,” she said, walking over to her father’s side of the collection. “The bags all have clean lines and many are designer inspired shapes but modernized,” she said, holding up a classic Grace Kelly purse.

“One of our signature Due Fratelli bags is this clutch,” she said, picking up a caramel toned hand bag from off the shelf. “It converts into a hand bag and then it converts into a shoulder bag. It’s a three in one; a day to night. So you can carry this with you during the day and at night you don’t have to change your purse, all you have to do is fold it over.”
“Did your father invent that?” I asked, stupefied.
“Yes,” she replied, very matter-of-factly.  
 “That is incredible!” I exclaimed, genuinely impressed.
“Well, that’s my story darling. The one-and-only-MAK. Shall we do lunch now? I know this fabulous place in little Italy that you are just going to love.”
We walked back to her desk where she gathered her purse and keys and then we went out the back entrance of the factory. As we walked through the parking lot, we passed by a large graffiti mural and she stopped to study it with a twinkle in her eye. A new idea was being born. We reached her car; a polished white BMW, and we climbed in. There was a pile of fresh sketches and notes next to her seat and she glanced at them briefly as she started the engine.
“What do you think of a purse that has GPS tracking?” she asked, with a smile. I turned to face her and began to laugh. What a girl!

Miss MAK Designs
110-9600 Blvd. St-Laurent
Montreal, Quebec H2N1R2
(877) 382-9889
Monday to Friday (excluding Holidays), 10am-6pm

Sep 22, 2013

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of New York's Eleven Madison Park in town September 30

Will Guidara (left) and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park
by Alexandra Forbes

I know it's a very bad idea to think of restaurants in terms of rankings, to compare them mentally, assigning marks. But at the same time, it's hard not to.

I'm constantly thinking about the restaurants that seem to demand another visit, that leave me feeling giddy and emotional at the end of dinner. They are no more than five or six: Faviken in Sweden; 41 Grados in Barcelona; Pujol in Mexico City, Etxebarri in the Basque country, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona.

Eleven Madison Park is another one of these places. My favourite in North America and truly one of the greatest I've ever been to.

Pure magic, starting with the beautiful ballet of the servers, never pompous but never overly casual, always on their toes and ever-so-courteous.

So it's exciting to hear that the co-owners of EMP - front-of-house master Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm - will be in town next week, on Monday, September 30.

They'll be here for one night only (one of the many reasons why EMP is so damn good is that they are always there, running the show).

It'll be an early evening of food, drink and book-signing (I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes).

I was lucky enough to receive the book at home, as a gift, and have to say it's a beauty, a true love letter to New York.

Montreal chefs Michelle Marek, Seth Gabrielse and Patrice Demers (the latter this city's most famous pâtissier) will prepare hors d'oeuvres, and drinks will be served. The EMP duo will give a short talk.

Tickets are on sale here.

The event will take place at the FoodLab, 1201 Boul. Saint-Laurent, 5-9 PM

Sep 9, 2013

Omnivore Montreal: a culinary festival for chefs making their mark

By Erica Radey, special collaboration.

It was a fun filled weekend this past August 17 and 18th at the SAT in Montreal as the Omnivore took place. Culinary demos were given by local chefs as well as chefs from abroad. Omnivore is the culinary festival of young chefs making their mark on the gastronomic scene.

The ambiance was great under the dome at the Société des Arts Technologiques—yes you read right under the dome. It does sound slightly trekkie but no, I assure you Comiccon is not until a few more weeks. You do, however, have the impression of being under the stars, just like at the planetarium, that is if stars where food and culinary demos in action. You felt as though you where peaking into the chef’s universe for a short while and caught a glimpse of what makes them unique and the best at what they do…

The ambiance was laid-back and anything but pretentious. It allowed chefs to unveil their philosophy and their art. It was all about going back to the basics: mastering techniques, simplicity of ingredients and local and seasonal produce.

One of my favourite demos had to be the one by Charles-Antoine Crête, chef at Toqué! It was somewhat more of a conference than a demo and it was just as colourful as his personality. He talked about his philosophy; the way he sees the art of cooking. It was simply going back to the basics, thinking like our grandmothers that could not waste a single scrap because they just could not afford to. 

Here is a picture of the so-called scraps: samples of jellies, salts and powders that Charles-Antoine and his team create turning scraps into gastronomy! 

Cooking for Charles-Antoine is more than just fear of waste; it’s a profound love of food and respect for products, be it a 600 lbs. tuna fish or potato peels. All produce deserves to be used to its full potential. That’s where creativity kicks in. He calls it cooking from scrap, yes scrap not scratch. At Toqué! The idea is to use everything by being creative all the while serving high-end gastronomy.

I was also very impressed by both chefs of the SAT’s Food Lab: Michelle Marek, Pastry Chef and Chef Seth Gabrielse. During his demo, Seth made a brioche. It looked so simple, as he explained the basics and science behind baking a good brioche. He educated us on the importance of mixing the ingredients in the right order and the crucial part fermentation plays in achieving the perfect dough.  It’s no wonder he was greatly influenced by the very respected James MacGuire. No picture to be found of the delicious brioche, it hit my lips before I could snap a shoot of it with my buttery fingers! 

Michelle Marek is a great technician. She reinvented classics in a very creative fashion with impeccable presentation. She used simple ingredients with great flavour combinations and a delicious play on textures. Her ingredients might be simple but, her cuisine is not simplistic. She made a point to use the right amount of sugar as not to denature the fresh seasonal fruit she was using, bringing out the delicate acidity of sour cherries and the deeper flavour of the blueberries. I think the pictures speak for themselves!
 Blueberry and dry curd cottage cheese buns
Figs, fresh goat cheese, sunflower buds and crunchy graham drizzled with sunflower oil      

Light dumplings coated in sweet toasted breadcrumbs served with sour cherry jelly and whipped cream

A fresh take on rum baba using spelt flour by Mlles Gâteaux

We have exceptionally talented young chefs here in Montreal and have nothing to envy of other great culinary cities. The next generation of chefs are inspiring, but most of all, they are inspired by local products and have a true passion for their terroir. Indigenous ingredients are being rediscovered in this young cuisine that delivers well thought-out dishes. A cuisine that sets itself apart and that’s growing its roots in home soil and giving local foods the place it deserves. 

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