I spent last weekend in Montreal attending the Omnivore Food Festival. Omnivore is a French organization that hosts culinary festivals in Paris every year, but this year, they decided to go global with a ‘World Tour’ that will visit 12 cities in 2012. The tour, which began back in February in Geneva, includes stops in Copenhagen, Shanghai, Istanbul, Moscow, Sydney, San Francisco, New York and, of course, Montreal. In each city, local and international chefs are invited to host master classes during which they demo their signature techniques and dishes.
The festival’s venue, Société des arts technologiques (SAT), offered a spectacular backdrop for the 18 master classes. The stage, a triangle formed by three work tables, was installed in the center of the SAT’s ‘Satosphere’, a large dome on which video is projected on 360°. The audience was seated all around the triangle in an intimate setting that allowed watching the chefs work very closely.
The event’s roster was impressive, including some of Montreal’s most talented chefs such as Marc-André Leclerc of Grumman 78, Gita Seaton of Nouveau Palais, Samuel Pinard of La Salle à Manger, Patrice Demers of Les 400 Coups, Martin Juneau of Pastaga and Stéphanie Labelle, owner of Pâtisserie Rhubarbe. International guest chefs only added to an already impressive lineup: The Folmer brothers (Couvert Couvert, Belgium), Petter Nilsson (La Gazzetta, Paris), John Horne (Canoe, Toronto) and Grégory Marchand (Frenchie, Paris) all created dishes featuring the best of Quebec’s products.
I attended Saturday and Monday’s sessions as well as Saturday’s Omnivorious Party and I feel like the best way to convey the atmosphere is through pictures (and some videos!). I loved my time there, and was very much inspired by the chefs who all looked humbled and honored to be there (like many said, you don’t get to cook in front of a hundred people everyday!) This was one of the first major food festivals in Montreal and I truly hope it’ll become a yearly event.
The SAT is a beautiful, modern space downtown Montreal, which is also home to the Foodlab, an innovative restaurant with an inexpensive-but-gourmet themed menu that changes monthly.
Chef Marc-André Leclerc from Grumman ’78, one of Montreal’s most famous food trucks, demonstrates how he makes his popular corn on the cob.
The corn is boiled, smeared with spicy mayo and sprinkled with “fromage en crottes” (the cheese that’s used in poutine), parmesan and fresh coriander. It’s very, very tasty.
Chef Petter Nilsson is a Swedish chef that now leads the kitchen of a Parisian restaurant, La Gazzetta, that serves “neo-Italian/Swedish/French food”.
Chef Nilsson made three dishes:
- Left: Baked celeriac with pickled cucumber and dill flowers, a play on the classic French combination “Jambon beurre et cornichons” (ham butter and pickles)
- Bottom: Salad of swiss chard, unripe strawberries, goat milk ricotta and wilted greens
- Back: “Tomatoes full of dirt”, one of his signature dishes, is composed of candied tomatoes, hay-infused frozen milk, and dirt, which is made out of chestnut flour, cocoa power and malt
Chef Gita Seaton, from Nouveau Palais, charmed the crowd with her calm and gentle ways. She explained how she uses high-end “haute cuisine” techniques to produce affordable and accessible food.
Chef Seaton demonstrated how to make her signature cheese sauce and serve it four different ways: with fries (a classic Nouveau Palais dish), in mac & cheese, over oysters (à la Rockefeller) and on an amazing looking tartine that included duck, bacon and tomatoes (not pictured, unfortunately!).
Chef Grégory Marchand, acclaimed chef of restaurant Frenchie in Paris, planned his menu according to the produce he found at Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market. He assembled five colorful dishes in record time.
Chef Marchand surrounded by his five colorful dishes.
Once in a while, chefs looked up to see their dishes projected on the Satosphere’s 360° screen.
Chef Marchand’s two melon salad with citrus oil, edamame peas, toasted pine nuts, chili, wild mint and ricotta salata.
Pastry chef Patrice Demers, from Les 400 Coups, wowed the audience with the refined presentations of his desserts that incorporated savory components.
Chef Demers’ elderberry flower pannacotta with melon, lemon syrup, elberberry jelly, candied celery and melon granita.
Blackberries covered with crumbled sablé cookies and a cardamom and vanilla crème anglaise.
Chefs Alez Cruz and Derek Dammann are behind this fall’s most anticipated restaurant opening in Montreal, an English-style gastro pub to be called Maison Publique. The place is financially backed by Jamie Oliver, which contributes to the excitement, but both chefs are well regarded, Cruz as founder of a Quebec terroir product company and Dammann, as former chef of defunct restaurant DNA.
Chef Cruz is from Gaspésie in Northern Québec, so he values products harvested in that area very much. He assembled a salad made exclusively from seashore vegetables (sea peas, arugula, asparagus, spinach, lettuce and plantain) and topped it with oyster-less Rockefellers.
The audience was introduced to a very unique ingredient, huitlacoche, a fungi that grows on corn. It’s traditionally harvested in Mexico, but a native tribe also grows it in Quebec.
The surprise was that chef Dammann used huitlacoche in a sweet dish along with corn milk, maple syrup and seabuckthorn.
Pastry chef Stéphanie Labelle trained with Pierre Hermé in Paris before coming back and opening her pastry shop, Rhubarbe, where she makes refined, Paris-style cakes. Below, she’s making her version of a lemon meringue pie.
Chef Labelle’s signature is the layered cake, in which she changes flavors according to seasons.
The finished product. The cake is made of pistachio cake, pistachio praline, melon cream, blackberry jelly, fresh blackberries and crushed pistachios.
Chef Labelle rounded up her cake line up with a seasonal creation, a fresh wild blueberry and sweet corn cream pie. The shell is made of hazelnuts and sesame seeds.
Chef Samuel Pinard, from restaurant La salle à manger, prepared a half hog to demonstrate how the restaurant makes its own charcuteries from scratch.
The giant screens came in handy to see chef Pinard’s work up close.
Chef Pinard holding the hog’s hind leg, with which he’s going to make prosciutto.
Chef Martin Juneau from Pastaga went experimental and produced a 100% blood dish, which included blood bread. The bread is made like a milk-based bread in which half of the milk is swapped for blood. The texture is great and it really does smell (and taste) like blood. Interesting, to say the least.
Chef Juneau made blood sausage, and here he demonstrates how he blends blood to make it bright red again before adding it to his boudin recipe.
Chef Juneau’s bloody dish: Toasted blood bread topped with boudin, rare bison, blood jus and greens.
Chef John Horne, chef at one of Canada’s best restaurants, Canoe in Toronto, produced incredibly plated dishes that looked like works of art. His signature is that he sources high-quality products from all over Canada to feature several in each of his dishes.
His first dish was inspired by Surf & Turf and featured homemade boudin noir, tempura shrimp, apple purée, watercress purée, celeriac remoulade, pickled chanterelle mushrooms, garlic flowers, mustard cress, apple cider foam and pork jus.
Chef Holmes’ second dish included Pernod-marinated watermelon, lobster, pickled watermelon rind, candied fennel, fennel flowers, celery leaves, miniature cucumbers, edible flowers and bergamot oil.
The Omnivore Food Festival was an amazing, colorful and inspiring event that allowed me to get to know the chefs behind many restaurants on my Montreal wish list. A dozen of the chefs who conducted master classes also presented dishes at the Omnivorious Party, which provided another great opportunity to chat with them and sample their cuisine. The event only made me eager to come back to the city to experience full meals!
For more about the Omnivore Food Festival:
- Omnivore’s official site (in French)
- View the short video presentation
- Montreal Gazette: Omnivore food festival goes global with stop in Montreal this weekend
- More pictures of the event, including the Omnivorious Party
- Omnivore World Tour Montreal 2012: A Recap