Who Are These Guys?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by isa, Feb 21, 2002.

  1. isa

    isa

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    Who are these guys?
    In other cities, chefs are in the spotlight. Here, they're in the kitchen

    Susan Semenak
    Montreal Gazette

    Food writers wax poetic about James MacGuire, the pure classicism of his cuisine and, of course, his bread. Every year, Gourmet magazine rates his Décarie Blvd. restaurant, Le Passe-Partout, among its favourites.

    Over at Toqué!, Normand Laprise is hailed as the father of the "new food" revolution in Canada. He's been to New York and back, and his fantastical food creations are legendary. The most famous chefs in the world pop by to cook alongside him in his St. Denis St. kitchen.

    But you won't find either of these home-grown demi-gods on the Food Network or on the cover of a best-selling cookbook. Indeed, they rarely venture out of their kitchens. Montreal gourmet groupies would be more likely to meet their favourite chefs at Marché Centrale at 5 a.m. picking through a bushel of organic basil than on the celebrity circuit.

    Call them the anti-heroes. The pop-cult wave that's making millionaire superstars out of chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Wolfgang Puck and Jamie Oliver (aka the Naked Chef) has bypassed Montreal's culinary giants.

    Maybe it's a cultural quirk or a personality trait, but Montreal's most accomplished chefs have a reputation for being decidedly bashful. It's true, too, that Montreal chefs don't have the same opportunities for stardom as their counterparts in bigger markets like New York or Los Angeles, or even Toronto for that matter. There's also the language barrier for francophone chefs.

    But it's also a question of attitude.

    "I live to cook. My kitchen is where I am most at home. I'm embarrassed to be thought of as a star. It is not how I see myself," says Laprise with unfeigned modesty. He spends at least 10 hours a day at Toqué! Besides, he says it's dangerous for a chef to let his head get too big. "If they make a star of you, you start to believe it. And then there's nothing left to work at."

    That's so quintessentially Canadian. In New York, by contrast, the minute a chef develops the slightest reputation, he hires a public-relations agent to increase his exposure. French-born New York superstar chef-owner Daniel Boulud, for instance, named all three of his restaurants after himself: Daniel, Café Boulud and Bistro DB.

    But even Toronto's chefs have bigger egos. Toronto's Susur Lee has his own Web site, and he has named his new restaurant, Susur, after himself. The cute, curly-haired Jamie Kennedy has another best-selling cookbook. His restaurant, in the Royal Ontario Museum, is called - you guessed it: Jamie Kennedy at the Museum.

    Most Montreal restaurant-goers could probably walk by Marc de Canck of La Chronique, Claude Pelletier of Cube, and Globe's David McMillan on the street without recognizing three of Quebec's hottest chefs.

    It's not that we lack culinary savvy. Montreal has a long tradition as a food-lovers' city with a vibrant restaurant culture. Take the High Lights Festival of food and cultural events, which opened last week. It has attracted dozens of chefs to Montreal from Europe, Asia, Australia and across the United States. Some special dinners featuring guest chefs - like Japanese-born Australian chef Tetsuya Wakuda at Toqué! - were sold out weeks in advance.

    For the most part, Montrealers are not easily impressed by stardom, says McMillan, the 30-year-old chef who put St. Laurent Blvd.'s trendy Globe on the culinary map. What they revere, he says, is great food.

    "The same customers who spend $150 a head on dinner at Globe on Saturday night will also go to Momesso's on Upper Lachine Rd. for a submarine sandwich and rave about it," McMillan says. "In Montreal, we don't seem to be awe-struck by fancy presentation or by big names."

    Louise Rousseau, an avid restaurant-goer from Montreal North, says she judges a restaurant by how the food looks and tastes and how the place feels.

    "Chefs come and go, but good food is a tradition in Quebec," says Rousseau, a Royal Bank manager, who scours restaurant reviews for hidden treasures in out-of-the-way neighbourhoods. "It's not because the chef is famous or the price expensive that we seek out a new place to try."

    Lesley Chesterman, The Gazette's fine-dining critic, says Rousseau is typical of Montreal restaurant-goers.

    "Most people here probably couldn't even name three chefs in Montreal. Our chefs are anonymous," says Chesterman, who is a former pastry chef herself.

    The vast majority of Montreal restaurants don't even include the chef's name on the menu. And unlike in Paris or New York, the chef rarely ventures out of the kitchen to roam around the dining room schmoozing with customers.

    "It's the food that's up front," Chesterman says. "Only chefs here keep track of what other chefs are doing."

    Montreal chefs don't exactly toil in obscurity - in fact, there's a healthy roster of young up-and-comers making a name for themselves with restaurant critics and food writers. Among them are Ian Perreault of Area, Jean-François Vachon at Le Club des Pins and Stelio Perombelon at Lemeac.

    But chefs are not by nature great communicators, suggests Jean-Paul Grappe, a teacher at Montreal's Institut de Tourisme et d'Hôtellerie du Québec, where generations of Montreal chefs have trained. Jean Soulard, the Quebec City chef who appears on Canal Vie, is one of Quebec's few celebrity chefs. The biggest culinary name on television here is Daniel Pinard, host of Les Pieds Dans les Plats, a weekly Télé-Québec program showcasing Quebec food. He's a journalist, though.

    Grappe, a respected chef himself, says most Montreal chefs don't have time to run after publicity. The restaurant business is a grueling one. According to his school's statistics, no more than 8 per cent of graduates stay in the job five years or more.

    "It's hard work. The hours are long and the pay is not so great. The average salary for a starting cook is $287 a week," Grappe says. "The people who stick it out in this business are not usually in it for the glory. It's passion that keeps us going - and we are all half-crazy."

    But there is a new breed of Montreal chef, many of them owners of their restaurants, with more of a penchant for the limelight. Hotshot Martin Picard made a name for himself behind the stove at Le Club des Pins. Now he's front and centre as chef-owner at his new bistro luxe, Au Pied de Cochon, having stamped his name on the menu and his picture on the restaurant logo.

    And many Montrealers will remember Nicolas Jongleux. The handsome, blond-haired chef had both his restaurants, Jongleux Café and Les Caprices de Nicolas, named after himself. He'd strut around his dining room, Armani-dressed, oozing style. He made his followers swoon. When he took his own life in the fall of 2000, at age 33, the news made the front page.

    McMillan is just as much a presence at Globe, where he works the dining room, shaking hands and socializing with the regulars. But McMillan says that's as much a star as he cares to be.

    James MacGuire doesn't want to sound mean or petty, but he says superstar chefs on American television make him think about politics.

    "You have to be so ambitious and self-centred to want to do that," MacGuire says. "It's like becoming the president of the United States. The ones who get there aren't necessarily the best ones for the job."

    - Susan Semenak's E-mail address is [email protected].

    © Copyright 2002 Montreal Gazette
     
  2. kimmie

    kimmie

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    I can't believe she talks about Daniel Pinard in the same breath!
     
  3. isa

    isa

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    Maybe we should let the others know who Pinard is Kimmie.

    Daniel Pinard is a journalist, he was unknown to most people until he decided to write about food. Then came a TV show and cookbooks. These days he is mostly known for the way he came out of the closet last winter.

    Most people knew he was gay even if he never said so in public. He came out partly to protest against the treatment of gay in Quebec’s society. What is was really saying was he was fed up by the way a local TV show portrait him in particular and gay in general.

    The problem is that even since his coming out he’s been making way to many salty comments about gay in general and himself. Turning his show into a three ring circus. I am not kidding the guy makes at least one stupid comment every five minutes. It has gotten to the point where many will not watch his show, finding him way to annoying. He should also learn to let his guest speaks. Let me give you last week’s show as an example.

    Pinard was visiting a bakery to talk about bread and to also get some demonstration on kneading, Kyle you would have love to see how that baker kneaded his dough. Instead of letting his guest speak, he kept making jokes with his co-animator who was trying to get the hang of kneading. I’ll leave to your imagination the kind of jokes and comments the viewer had to endure.


    Annoying? You have no idea how much.