Montreal is a world-class food city. It combines diverse neighbourhoods, access to some of the greatest food markets in North America and, creative chefs deeply rooted in their own culinary heritage. The result is one of the most exciting restaurant scenes in the world.
Montreal Cooks: A Tasting Menu from the City’s Leading Chefs is written by Tays Spencer and Jonathan Cheung, owners of Appetite for Books, Montreal’s famed cookbook shop and cooking school. The book offers up 80 recipes from 40 of Montreal’s chefs, from wintry meals and light summery ones, dishes that are quick to whip up and some that may offer up a challenge. Sadly, some of the city’s best restaurants like Joe Beef, Maison Bouloud, Pied de Cochon and Toque! are noticeably absent from the book. However, Montreal Cooks has enlisted the help of some very iconic and of-the-moment eateries, such as Burgundy Lion, Le Bremner, Hôtel Herman and Maison Publique.
The book is structured in pretty standard fashion: Appetizers and Little Meals, Salads and Soups, Mains, Desserts and Sweets. Recipes can also be searched by restaurant. The book does a good job of guiding readers on where to locate more exotic ingredients or how to find the perfect substitute. A handy metric conversion chart makes the book a friendly read for our American neighbours to the South.
Spencer and Cheung say that Montreal Cooks was “written with the home cook in mind, …designed to make recipes from fan-favourite restaurants achievable for everyone.” This is a half-truth. While there are some alluringly simple dishes like Chicken Soup (recipe below), Fish ‘n’ Chips, French Toast and Pasta with Meatballs, there are just as many recipes that most home chefs are unlikely to tackle. For instance, Park Restaurant‘s Monkfish Liver Torchon with Ponzu Sauce, Hôtel Herman‘s Bone Marrow with Potato Purée and Mullet Caviar and the deceptively elaborate Octopus Mole tacos that list a whopping 40 ingredients over 3 pages.
Fabric Gaëtan’s photography is stunning yet here it is hampered by poor choice of stock. Every image seems to have been passed through a ghastly Instagram filter, rendering the images morose. The intensity of the visual experience is washed out and muted. It is quite a disservice to Mr. Gaëtan’s skillful art direction and food styling.
My favourite parts of the book are some of the behind-the-scenes profiles. After beginning a degree in religious studies at McGill, Camilla Wynne of Preservation Society found herself baking her way through mid-terms and promptly decamped for pastry school. Chef Derek Damming of Maison Publique spent four years working in England at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and had a short stint at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. When his visa ran out, he hightailed it back to Montreal. We also learn that seventy years ago, waiter Moishe Lighter won his restaurant from his boss in a poker game and built it into, according to Forbes magazine, one of the ten best steakhouses in the world, Moishe’s!
Montreal’s cuisine is at once simple and rustic, layered and robust, intoxicating and playful. And it calls upon the myriad of cultures and ethnicities that make up its diverse population while blending them with its French Canadian roots. Capturing the culinary essence of a city can be tricky business. Montreal Cooks does a good job in showcasing some of Montreal’s present day cuisine while celebrating its trailblazing and talented chefs.
Best Chicken Noodle Soup Ever (Olive + Gourmando)
Serves 4 to 6
Soups are special at Olive. We put a lot of effort into our soups, because frankly, soup is one of my favourite things to eat. I love it when a surprising garnish elevates a simple soup and alters our preconceived ideas about what that soup should taste like.
2 skinless, boneless organic chicken breasts
extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup shelled fresh peas, room temperature
1 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
10 cups homemade chicken stock
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ tsp sea salt for the chicken stock
¼ package (1 lb bag) of best-quality spaghettini, broken into bite-sized pieces
2 cups finely grated aged Pecorino cheese
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a shallow roasting pan, drizzle the chicken breasts generously with olive oil and toss to coat them completely. Add the garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken for 15 to 20 minutes until just cooked through. Allow to cool slightly, then shred by hand and set aside (do not refrigerate).
In a bowl, toss the peas with the mint, and season with a bit of salt. Set aside.
In a large pot, bring the chicken stock, butter, lemon juice and the 1 1/2 tsp salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes (season with more salt, if needed). Add the pasta and cook until it is almost al dente. Stir in the shredded chicken and finish cooking the pasta. Remove the pot from the heat.
To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls, then garnish with a generous spoonful of the pea-mint mixture, some Pecorino cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and lots of cracked pepper. Serve immediately.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Olive + Gourmando, Raincoast Books