PLAISIRS DE LA TABLE .
. . A NEVER ENDING FEAST
year marks Les Plaisirs de la Table’s 12th anniversary,
and it will be like none other. A glorious gathering up 56 female
chefs and wine producers from Australia, Europe and the Americas
are invading the kitchens of Montreal’s finest restaurants
to create their uniquely exquisite dishes for the public to
enjoy. As well, epicurean delights coming from the tables of
Quebec Chefs and Cheeses – an event that focuses on local
chefs who are used to saying ‘cheese’ -- give tasters
the opportunity to vote on their favourite cheese-based dishes.
There will be
four winners with accolades awarded accordingly. SAQ’s
Gourmet Rendez-vous accents the prestigious palette of Les Plaisirs
de la Table with their own event: three leading international
female winemakers will offer their home-grown vine produce along
with savoury tapas samplings. In the Spotlight is Anne-Sophie
Pic. Wearing her chef hat as honorary president
of the entire food extravaganza, this wonderwoman is the only
female chef in France to claim three Michelin stars. It’s
only natural foodies will flock to her honourary president dinners.
Likewise, artsy types will head for Bistro Le Répertoire.
Here, artists Frida Kahlo and Edith Piaf are the inspiration
behind the six-course meal that echoes -- in culinary masterpiece
mode-- the creativity of these two late, greatly formidable
felines from France. Icing on the cake comes in the form of
outdoor lights shows with 175 activities featuring music, installations,
dance and story-telling. Bon Appétit!
Mónica creates incomparable cuisine at Bistro Cocagne
Owner of three stellar restaurants in Mexico City and author
of La Gran Cocina, Mónica Patiño is without
a doubt this century's gourmet goddess of Mexico. Having trained
with chefs in France, Thailand and Mexico, mentoring even with
Japanese and Chinese chefs, Monica's global vision is reflected
in her extraordinary cuisine. Inside Montreal's Bistro
Cocagne Restaurant its young chef-owner Alexandre
Loiseau, who has turned venison and duck into his standout successes,
stated that turning his kitchen over to Mónica
makes him a simple employee at his own restaurant. "I along
with my staff have learned so much from her, and it was a challenge
to find all the ingredients needed for her various dishes."
Although he couldn't
find chili negro in Montreal, Mónica made sure to bring it up
from Mexico. The five-course meal could not have survived without
it. I was sent to heaven with her tostada de poulpe
- tender rondelles of octopus that were utterly devoid of its
usual crunchy texture. This is due to Mónica relying on the
Japanese technique of salting it when raw. Scallops and ceviche
complimented this teaser of gourmet greatness to come. Her Asian
influence was tastefully appreciated in the succulent shrimp
that followed. Tamarind sauce enhanced with chili, garlic, ginger
and black sesame seeds made this sweet and sour creation an
exquisite experience for the palette. The black bean soup hid
a surprise: tiny cubes of perfectly sautéed potatoes and a special
ham called pata negro de Iberica - similar yet superior
to Italy's prosciutto. Ground peanuts, avocado leaves and chili
created one of the best sauces I have ever tasted. It was used
to top the soup at one's own discretion. I gobbled it up on
its own. It was difficult to decide which was better - the soup
or that Thai/Mexican sauce.
has managed to create fusion Mexican cuisine thereby surpassing
the traditional taco, tortilla, frijoles food while utilizing
them in such elegant ways. The rapturous simplicity of her dishes
is something she aspires to. She strongly believes in authentic,
simple cuisine that relies on Mexico's flavours, including the
green sauce made from Mexico's axiote flower. Her precious pork
creation is a tribute to her country. Longe (belly)
de porc is usually cooked all night under the ground
in some kind of clay oven. Mónica combined this pork flavoured
with orange and spices. Caramelized pineapple pieces demurely
sat beside the pork piece. It was ingeniously placed on a tender
piece of tortilla. Chili-burned until it becomes black like
charcoal accounted for the scrumptious flavour. The meat was
impeccably tender - so gentle that it shredded upon cutting
of wines from France, Niagara on the Lake accompanied each dish
accordingly. A thickly textured Pedro Ximenez port enhanced
the wonderful dessert: a creamy pannacotta of orange and coffee.
A piece of ice placed into this creamy mixture soaked up the
Tia Maria liquor poured by the waiter into this deluxe finale.
Mónica's genius resides in her own country's bounty. Thanks
to Mónica's trust in basics, she builds upon them to
create rapturous dishes. Mexico Magnifico!
3842 St. Denis Street.
LIFTS KOKO’S PATRONS TO AN ALL-TIME HIGH
Anita Lo served a five-course meal to over 140 people within
the stunning black and white chic of Koko’s chandelier-clad
restaurant. Wow! Wall murals in black and white evocative of
the elegant Chanel era enhanced the glorious gourmet servings
to come. One should know that Koko -- housed inside and belonging
to the very hip Opus Hotel -- has been aptly named; the word
actually means ‘meeting place’ in Japanese.
left her famous Annisa New York City restaurant to dive into
Koko’s kitchen helmed on all other nights by Montrealer,
Michele Forione. The 34-year-old doffed his chef’s hat
to her as he effusively commented on her talents; her creativity
earned her the winning title on Iron Chef America more than
a decade ago. This has prestigiously prompted worldwide recognition
for the 45-year-old female sensation. “She is amazing.
I have learned so much; she’s so focussed and calm. Her
work ethic is so impressive and her recipes are incredible,”
said chef Forgione whose Mediterranean dishes have also garnered
non-stop adulation for Koko.
dishes represent flavourful trends she has studied in her travels.
Her food is not for the faint of heart. “I create adventurous
cuisine that is balance in the palette. I believe that tuna
if it’s in the dish must come through, as should the scallop
and the lamb. I’m an omnivore; I love learning, so I bring
international influences in a smart way to each dish. It’s
about flavour, texture and the meat or seafood featured,”
said the no-nonsense, affable chef who has been cooking for
23 years. She dared to reveal that the lamb hit a glitch as
the ovens at Koko are different from hers in New York. I thought
the lamb was terrific. It was the pre-dessert finale. My only
complaint was it seemed out of place with the seafood featured
in the other dishes. Perhaps, a pasta would have proven more
pleasing for me at that point in the feast. Still, I love lamb
and I really liked the tender texture of her rack of lamb.
evening started with the best drink I have ever had. It’s
a Koko keeper called Opus 136, a tribute to the 136 rooms of
hotel. This drink initially conceived by the beverage-brilliant
Brad Stanton of Vancouver, is now Koko’s crowning trademark.
The flavours flew me to a Brazilian beach basking in the sun.
Montreal’s winter winds turned into a soft breeze upon
every sip. Opus 136’s ingredients comprise grey goose
vodka, blood orange, passion fruit purée and alizé
was a splendid aperitif. Suffice it to say the accompanying
wines paired with Lo’s unique offerings were also appreciated.
Outstanding was Australia’s 2008 Hermit Crab Marsanne.
Similar to a Côte de Rhône white, its seafood moniker
aptly matched the Japanese dish with which it was paired: Lo’s
little foodie surprise to this wine appeared in the second course
serving. This enigmatic dish comprised a soup-like custard of
sea urchin, hedgehog mushroom and lotus root. Saki, soya sauce
and dashi created a rare flavour mix. It was totally interesting
as it offered different taste textures: strange and superbly
satisfying. Likewise, Australia’s 2009 Pfeiffer Shiraz
was a fine fit for Lo’s tender rack of lamb. But the accompanying
ground beef rondelle topped with a mashed potato of sorts seemed
out of place -- as did the underlying pungent South African
gravy that tasted like marmite and tabasco sauce mixed together:
not my favourite. Sardinia’s 2008 Thilion sweetly complimented
Lo’s grilled sea scallops, loufah and sweet miso dish.
I detected a tad of a burnt taste to the otherwise tender pieces
of seafood heaven, and the buttery caramel-tasting sauce was
out of this world. I wanted to lick my plate.
warm Meyer lemon curd crustade was a dessert to die for. Called
a pudding, it was totally devoid of any watery texture, and
quite frankly was the standout of the evening along with her
sea urchin sensational creation. Lo lifted the crowd to lofty
heights with her daring recipes that few could ever succeed
in duplicating. She is a world onto her own. I was ready to
hang off one of those crystal chandeliers at the end of the
evening. It was an event – a Koko event that was unforgettable
-- a fabulous gourmet gift for all five senses.
AS STÉPHANIE GAGNON SERVES A SUNNY BRUNCH AT LES CAVISTES
Brunch brought to you by
chef Stéphanie Gagnon is both exotic and exciting. It isn’t
that this Québécois chef travels far afield to find new recipes
or ingredients. In fact, Gagnon has been cooking ever since
she was a wee girl. Her mom taught her a lot in the family kitchen
and experimenting became a way to look at the food she loved.
She’s been a chef at Les Cavistes for a year since its opening,
and has already built up a loyal following. I understand why.
Her dishes are tasty, pretty to look at and extremely filling.
I was impressed by her method of using French techniques of
cooking to create innovative dishes whose ingredients come from
Charlevoix and other local regions. In fact, she relies on four
regional farmers has her suppliers. Still, Scandinavia entered
the entrée dish of Gravlax salmon. She employed that country’s
technique of salting the salmon raw. It was heavenly in texture
and taste. Served on a smoked char waffle accompanied by tiny
sprinkles of sweet, glistening red roe, and grapefruit slices,
my tongue enjoyed the contrast of this number: the smoothness
of the salmon, the juice of the fruit and the crunchy quality
of the tiny beads of roe.
The main dishes
were interesting. Most employed different cheeses from Charlevoix
in some subtle way along with one from Baie-St-Paul called 1608.
It is a classy flavourful pressed cheese, smooth but not too
creamy. Her polenta was creamy rich, buttery and divinely thick.
It was surrounded in a nest of homemade muesli with honey dried
fruit. It was extremely satisfying - perfect for those in need
of a hearty unusual breakfast with no time for lunch. A creamy,
buttery Charlevoix cheese called Fleurmier made its integral
appearance in her crepe creation. Stuffed with tiny Japanese
noki mushrooms, the crepe was thin and smooth. A buttery flavour
softened the mushroom taste. During the Highlights Festival,
Gagnon was one of four chefs chosen from 150 to create four
cheese dishes spontaneously. Hers was a huge success. Given
Gagnon’s young age (22), spontaneity is the unseen ingredient
in each of her dishes. Full of surprise, one eagerly awaits
each dish arriving at the table. Furthermore, we love her for
giving Quebec produce centre place on each of the plates she
so wonderfully presents.
Les Cavisties is located at 4115 Saint Denis. Call (514) 903-5089.