Oct 27, 2011

La Grande Tablée : a unique dining event for a great cause!

More and more fundraising events capture our imagination in Montreal, with the help of very generous chefs, always ready to give back to their community.

La Grande Tablée is no exception and offers on top of that an extreme aromatic experience directly from Taste Buds and Molecules’ universe by its author and sommelier François Chartier and his partner-in-cuisine chef Stéphane Modat.

7 of Montreal’s top chefs will be cooking for you, under the aromatic expertise of Chartier & Modat duo, a 7 course meal with wine pairing of course!

These chefs are:
Marc-André Jetté of Les 400 Coups (nominated in the 10 best new restaurants of 2011 by EnRoute magazine, at #4!)
Daren Bergeron of Decca 77 and Newtown
Simon Mathys of Bar & Bœuf
Michelle Marek of SAT Foodlab (the new experimental playground for food in Montreal!)
Éric Dupuis of Taverne Square Dominion
Junichi Ikematsu of Restaurant Jun I (one of the best Sushi restaurant in town)
Stelio Perombelon of Le Saint-Sulpice

Montreal: Nov. 7th 2011
Quebec City: Dec. 6th 2011

Tickets are available at 250$.

All profits go to fight against hunger and to foster culinary skills of kids in need in Quebec in order to offer a long term solution. For more details visit their web page on La Tablée des Chefs.

For more details on the event: http://www.grandetablee.ca/ or call 450 748-1638

La Tablée des Chefs is a cause close to my heart and for whom I've worked and still volunteer for when possible. It is so rewarding when you see kids light-up when they succeed for the first time to cook a meal for them and their family! The joy and pride they feel at that moment is priceless and does carry through other spheres of their life. This is why these fabulous chefs, Chartier and Modat have joined forces with La Tablée des Chefs to organize this unique event. Enjoy!

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Oct 19, 2011

Le Bremner: chef Chuck Hughes' latest restaurant in Old Montreal

by Alexandra Forbes

It's been a while since Garde Manger, a little restaurant I actually liked a lot in Old Montreal, turned into more of a party place than a place where you can eat without having to yell to make yourself heard.

So what did celeb-chef-owner Chuck Hughes do? He opened a second restaurant nearby meant for those lame people like me who care more about the food than the party.

Chuck Hughes is, all everyone knows by now, the sexy ex-bus boy, ex-bad-boy and the second Canadian to ever win Iron Chef (he beat Bobby Flay!).  He has his own Food Network show, Chuck’s Day Off, which is shown even in the U.S., on the Cooking Channel. He cooks for the famous music acts at Osheaga every summer.

He still cooks, though. And Le Bremner is where you'll find him running the service, usually.

My food critic friend Melora Koepke loved it. Read her report here.

Marie-Claude Lortie, the city's top restaurant critic, was quite disappointed, as she said in her review in La Presse.  She's sick of what she calls the neo-rustic cooking that Hughes is known for.

I haven't been yet, so... no comment... I'll let you pick your sides on your own! :)

Le Bremner, 361 Saint Paul Street East, (514) 544-0446

Oct 17, 2011

Chef Daniel Boulud in Montreal: gala dinner with Ritz-Carlton's top brass in attendance

Chef Daniel Boulud (at left) with Carlos Ferreira, who was the honoree of Saturday night's gala
by Alexandra Forbes

Elvis has left the building.

Or rather: Daniel Boulud has left town after a flash visit. He flew in Saturday afternoon from L.A. to cook at a posh benefit dinner on Saturday night. I won't bore you with the details, as the dishes and grand wines served there won't be seen again anytime soon. Suffice to say there were three highlights, the first being the halibut with a squid ink 'marmelade' and topped by perfectly crisp chips, prepared by Gilles Herzog of F! Bar, which tasted much better than this bad photo may lead you to believe:

The second highlight was the gorgeously dense and silky terrine of foie gras served by Olivier de Montigny of La Chronique:

And the third, of course, was the main dish, prepared by Daniel Boulud's brigade: venison with cubes of root vegetables and sauce poivrade. Here is one of his chefs, testing the cuisson of the venison loins. I forgot to snap a photo of the finished dish as I was having too much fun watching the team at work in the kitchen. I love to see chef Boulud pull a team together, as he firmly but cooly bosses everyone around like an orchestra conductor.

I was lucky to be seated with very interesting people. There were the bosses of the Dinex group (which owns Boulud's flagship, Daniel restaurant, and all their other restaurants around the world). And there were the lovely mr. and mrs. Andrew Torriani, who are behind the refurbishing of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. The Torrianis have enlisted none other than Boulud himself to run the new restaurant of the Ritz once it reopens, so needless to say I had lots of questions for them... :)

Oh yes.... how could I forget... there was a dessert by famed pâtissier Christophe Michalak, of the Plaza Athenée hotel in Paris, even though the man himself ended up not coming to Montreal. The chocolate square had round holes through which a delicious nutty foam surfaced to the top as I put pressure on it with my fork. Delish.

Andrew Torriani, CEO of Montreal's Ritz-Carlton, and chef Daniel Boulud
And for those who haven't seen it yet, here's the video where I interview chef Daniel Boulud at Montreal's Ritz-Carlton about his upcoming restaurant, slated to open in March, 2012 at the hotel.

Oct 14, 2011

Chef Ferran Adrià in Montréal: honorary degree from the ITHQ and "molecular gastronomy"-inspired menu

Chef Ferran Adrià in Lima, in September, attending the food forum Mistura

by Alexandra Forbes
I've got to admit I didn't see this one coming: chef Ferran Adrià is coming to town. It surprised me to hear the news, because the guy's been kinda busy these days... he's the spokesman for Telefonica, he's overseeing construction of his upcoming Foundation, he's helming this hard-to-decipher food blogging conference in Barcelona oct 17-19, he's helping his brother Albert re-launch their "tecnoemotional" bar 41o (also in Barcelona) as an "El Bulli lite" type place AND he's doing a book tour to promote The Family Meal, which focuses on the staff meals served at El Bulli and how to reproduce them at home.... lots going on.

So why come to Montréal for a visit?!

Even after hearing the official explanation, it still beats me...

Marie-Claude Lortie, the restaurant critic for the city's main newspaper (La Presse),  says "he will come next November 22 to receive an honorary degree from the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ) and give a lecture. Mr. Adrià will not cook a meal.
(...) The lecture, entitled "Cuisine as a language" will be addressed at the students and teachers of the ITHQ as well as a limited group of restaurant industry people".

Now here is the part I find corny: Marie-Claude quotes the organizers as saying that "by (giving him this honorary degree) the ITHQ wishes to salute the contribution of this cook and thinker, often associated with molecular gastronomy and his impact on the evolution of contemporary culinary arts". 

Culinary arts? Eeek! Molecular Gastronomy? Double eeeeeeek!

This looks like an easy shot at promotion (on the part of the cooking school) if I've ever seen one...

To top it off, the ITHQ says its restaurant plans on serving a menu "inspired by Adrià's culinary philosophy" long after his departure, from November 28 until December 22.

Lord help us.

Oct 9, 2011

New Joe Beef book: real Montreal, real food, real people, real living

by Alexandra Forbes

I'm lucky enough to have gotten a copy of the new Joe Beef book - The Art of Living According to Joe Beef - in the mail, hot off the presses.

But truth is, I didn't really have to read it.

The publisher sent it because I'm working on a roundup of this season's best food books, for GQ magazine. Each of the chosen books will be written up, but nothing too long or fancy. Five lines, six max.

So skimming through the book would have been fine. And that's what I planned on doing.

I picked it up, had a first good look at the beautifully designed pages, but then something happened that doesn't usually happen: I couldn't stop reading. I caught myself laughing outloud, and wanting to share the best phrases with my friends.

wtf? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and that got me thinking. Why?, I wonderered. What's so great about it?

Well, reason number one  why I fell so hard for the book is that being often too honest myself, I appreciate honesty in others. Extreme honesty? Even better!

Often, chefs put out books that are way more polished and tame than their real selves. Too prettied-up, too photoshopped, too edited, too bland. Or, even worse, books that don't tell it like it is, and sugar-coat their recipe descriptions. Not the Joe Beef book...


Canard et Saucisse: "This dish is not surprising in taste."
Mouclade: "We do not have a story for this recipe. Sorry."
Cornflake Ell Nuggets: "All of the eels in the world begin and return to the Sargasso Sea: can you imagine a more disgusting place to swim?"
Baked Common Crab: (Canadian crab) "oddly enough don't make it to Montreal. Instead, they're highjacked somewhere along the way for the Asian Market."
Mackerel Benedict: "When we wrote "mackerel" on the blackboard menu, it didn't sell, so we renamed it silver tail and a star was born".
Spaghetti Homard-Lobster: "Yes, homard and lobster mean the same thing (like "minestrone soup"). Among other things that don't make any sense: this is probably the most popular Joe Beef dish.

I found the paragraphs describing each recipe truthful, entertaining and pretty damn funny.

The second reason the book rocks is that it shows off Montreal as few ever do, as I know and love it. Not the ol' "this is a piece of France in North America" cliché  crap, but as a place inhabited by cool folk who love good food, good wine, good tunes and good fun. The kind of crowd I often see when I go to Joe Beef myself.

In a way, Joe Beef's décor translates those ideas into a certain look that I never tire of, and which is now copied all over town. I seem to have the same love of an aesthetic that Fred Morin, Allison Cunningham and Dave McMillan (the three partners) seem to favour. Which the book describes so succintly:

"a perfect Adirondack chair, a red vynil banquette with brass nails, a pretty oyster-bar counter, old enameled cast-iron sinks, industrial lamps, a banged-up Rancilio coffee-machine. We like wood, old paint, and a simple touch of cottage".

The third and most important reason why this is my favourite food book in years is that I see beauty in the boys' unadulterated and uncompromising love of real food, real people, real wine and living. They love each other, their families and staff, and aren't embarassed to say it (the aknowledgements at the end sound heartfelt, read like a full-on lovefest).

Dave and Fred: partners and best buddies

They haven't fallen, like so many chefs out there, for the siren call of the endless global expan$$ion. They're happy with the way things are, with owning not more than two restaurants side-by-side (the second one being Liverpool House, of course, which they describe as "Joe Beef lite"). They're happy with the hands-on approach, being close to the legion of regulars. They take care of their small suppliers. They succeed in that "old-fashioned" way: by running their two restaurants like family businesses, and following their own instincts, tastes and ethics. Works like a charm.

I try not to be prejudiced, but the truth is I don't like restaurant empires. When a beloved place spawns clones across oceans and countries, the clones, no matter how good, never end up having a soul the way the original does. As we say in Brazil, it's the eye of the owner that fattens the cattle.

Dave Chang, of the Momofuku empire (Big and growing! Branches in Sydney and Toronto coming soon!), ironically enough, agrees with me. He writes in the book's foreword:

"Money, all of it, all the things that as a New York restaurant owner, as a New York chef, I know they have defied - they have defied what it is to be in the business. From the beginning, they have had a totally different agenda. It isn't about anything other than, "You know what? Let's have a good time. If it ever gets to the point where it's not, we'll just stop the whole thing". A lot of people like to talk like that, but very few people can actually do it, and no place on the planet I know does it half as well as Joe Beef."

Long live Joe Beef.

My video interview with them:

And more:

Joe Beef's luncheonette McKiernan shuts down to make room for a new JB oyster bar

Oct 4, 2011

Jean-Paul Riopelle works on show starting October 13 at the Quartier des Spectacles

INFO from the press release:

"The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and the Galerie Lounge TD of the Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan are proud to present D’aile en ailes l’élan vital, an extraordinary exhibition of fifty works, many previously unseen, by internationally renowned Québécois painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, from October 13 to December 24, 2011.
An extraordinary man, a unique exhibition: more than fifty works, including twenty previously unseen!

This unique exhibition will assemble more than fifty works by Jean-Paul Riopelle: 27 prints, 3 sculptures in bronze, photos of the artist, a number of articles and objects from his daily painting routine and, above all, more than twenty previously unseen works on paper which Huguette Vachon, his companion, has painstakingly selected in order to share their beauty with all of us.
Jean‑Paul Riopelle (1923-2002)

Jean-Paul Riopelle is one of the few Canadian painters, sculptors and engravers to have carved out an enviable place on the international scene. A passionate man, intensely in love with freedom, he scoffed at conventions and taboos throughout his career. Fiercely independent, he preceded currents and trends, ceaselessly exploring new techniques and new materials, constantly seeking to renew his creative approach, allowing his pictorial language to evolve towards an utterly original aesthetic. Riopelle found his principal source of inspiration in nature, and it would remain his preferred subject throughout his career. For Riopelle, the important thing was never the subject itself, but the mystery it revealed, through which the artist could express himself. He had an inimitable vision of things, and his representation of the real remains remarkable and novel.

“There is no such thing as abstraction, nor representation.
There is only expression, and self-expression means placing yourself in front of things.”

- Jean‑Paul Riopelle

Born in Montreal in 1923, Riopelle studied at the École du meuble, with PaulÉmile Borduas as a teacher. A signatory and advocate of the Refus global manifesto, he settled in France in 1948, where he was privileged to be at the heart of the artistic and intellectual life of the avant-garde. In the ’50s, he and his work soared to triumph in Paris as well as in America. During his time in Paris and New York, Riopelle rubbed elbows with the greatest jazz legends of the era, including Bud Powell. This interest in the music led him to permit the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal to reproduce silkscreens of his piece, Jazz, in 1997. Then, during the 25th anniversary of the Festival, the late painter’s estate granted exclusive permission to reproduce 75 copies of the previously unreleased 1990 work Big Bang, Big Band, which Alain Simard had personally acquired in 1997, during a visit to the artist’s home on L’Isle-aux-Grues.

Today, the works of Jean-Paul Riopelle are included in major museum, private and public collections and showcased in the most important galleries the world over. His is an immense and diversified oeuvre that opened new artistic horizons, leaving its mark on the history of world art."

Opening hours:
Monday: closed
Tuesday: 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wednesday to Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hours extended until 9 p.m. during concert evenings in L’Astral
Jean-Paul Riopelle
D’aile en ailes l’élan vital
(On the Wings of the Life-force)
From October 13 to December 24, 2011
Galerie Lounge TD
Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan
305 Ste. Catherine Street West, 2nd Floor - 514 288-8882

Plaza Athenée's Christophe Michalak and chef Daniel Boulud in Montreal, October 15

by Alexandra Forbes

Some big names are coming together for a gala dinner - sold out already! - on October 15, in honour of restaurateur Carlos Ferreira.... Very excited to see the great pâtissier Christophe Michalak working alongside the master himself, Daniel Boulud. Should be a good one... 

For those who don't know, Boulud is soon opening a restaurant in Montreal. I interviewed him recently about the new project, here's the video: