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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