Tag Archives: Montreal

Joe Beef: A Philosophy of Quebec Cuisine

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Montreal remains the place where I feel most at home. It is a city with simple aspirations; it is a city focused on quality, local food prepared in an avante garde culinary style. People in Quebec appreciate wine, soft lighting, conversation at dinner, laughter and sensuality. It is a city that has changed my life purpose three times and influenced how I live with more with every visit. The past two nights were no exception, yet exceptional nonetheless.

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My usual destination in Montreal is Martin Picard’s Au Pied Du Cochon on Duluth Street, but for this visit we chose to try our luck with Joe Beef, the brainchild of David MacMillan and Frederic Morin. A favourite with superstar chefs like David Chang and Anthony Bourdain, Joe Beef has the street cred to make it worth a three month ahead reservation.

What was it like? Nothing like we expected, but beautiful in its darkness and lush food. First, I hope you read French. The ever-changing chalkboard menu is wholly francophonic, and difficult to see in the evening lights. Secondly, one needs a sense of adventure, a trust in your waiter, and a willingness to try new flavours. Our dinner consisted of 8 maritime oysters in the raw, two sea urchin, a pork and chicken tender terrine served next to a slab of perfectly chilled foie gras, a New Brunswick lake trout in a salty mortadella sauce, a large filet of cheval, and a side of Parmesan frites. I was also shamed into a whimsical peppermint soft serve ice cream on molten chocolate cake. Two bottles of Bourgogne wine and two of the better cafe Americano I have had in a long time. Final bill: $350.

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A visit to Joe Beef is not just about the food. A visit to this minor Mecca is about coming to understand a food philosophy and flavour palette that one cannot find in Toronto, New York or Chicago. The fact that horse meat was on the menu and lauded by the waiter as the best food in the house, would never be supported in a town where people are disconnected from their food and its sources. How many places serve chicken, beef and fish from parts unknown? Joe Beef knows the horse is from Pennsylvania, and the arguments for its consumption in recent Globe and Mail articles are compelling. The flavour falls between beef for texture and pork for flavour complexity. I will not crave cheval in my dreams, but it was a transformational dish in terms of how I interpret flavours for my own cooking style.

In relation to that, the reason for a food photographer and home cook to visit a restaurant like Joe Beef is to experience how food can be prepared honestly and simply. The terrine chaude was my favourite dish. I had never thought to warm a terrine, and this one was perfect in its composition. In contrast to the heavenly foie gras in a cool, classic sauce, the terrine made me want to prepare my own version this week; to build a family recipe for posterity and years of expectant enjoyment.

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We drank Burgundy region wines, as they were suggested in the Joe Beef restaurant book, and I could certainly see how their simple, clean flavours work with the rich, salty, complex flavours in the food. In the end, Joe Beef is a one time visit for me. I get it, I loved it, and it was worth the money; I simply prefer the gluttony and Gargantuan nature of Au Pied du Cochon more. Life is short; eat what you dream of in the darkest of Winter nights.

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From a different perspective, and after a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli, we decided to stay at The Fairmont’s Les Voyageurs Bar for dinner on the second night. Partly due to getting a slight chill while trekking up Mont Royal, and partly due to a $100 credit from hitting Platinum status on 2013’s trips out West and Ottawa, we stayed inside this classic hotel from the train era. After a dozen oysters from the PEI bay where I bought property next to this year we went with a cheese plate of Quebec cheeses accompanied by an absolutely perfect bottle of Quebec white wine. The price was a reasonable $150, and the experience was matched with our expectations: good hotel food from the locality.

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Our final moments this morning were spent lingering over coffee, cheap Bordeaux and a wickedly rich collection of French pastry, baguettes filled with smoked salmon and a feuillete containing a bechamel and ham centre. Perhaps that is what Montreal offers: multiple, magnificent moments unlike anywhere else. These were moments welcome and stolen from a cold winter season.

Dispatches From the IPhone: Ma Belle, Ma Vie Dans Montreal

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Montreal is where I travel to when I want to live deeply. The Old Port is filled with art, romance and boutique hotels; St. Laurent and St.Denis streets hold unique shops and places to eat. Atwater Market is where patisserie is Parisian and butchers ply their trade. The only way to fail in Montreal is to lack the ability to walk and enjoy what the city brings to your feet.

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The one place I seek refuge with every visit is Au Pied du Cochon. The child of madman Martin Picard, it is the Mecca for Québécois food for the soul. From foie gras cromesquis (molten foie in bread cubes) to large chunks of perfectly done flesh, Pied is one of my favourite restaurants in the world. Sadly, it has also become a place where travelling conservatives pretending to be foodies are being drawn to. As I looked across the bar top, the uber thin woman experiencing the kitchen through her eyes in lieu of her mouth. The sad couple sat facing the bar instead of each other. They stared at the food on the plate instead of tasting it. Doggy bags full of unctuous Duck in a Can and foie gras poutine went home with them; they will pretend to eat it, but it will be thrown away when their microwave butchers it. Such things make me feel bad for the rest of the world; such things remind me of how fortunate I have become in 2013.

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What did I order? After the nuggets of molten liver, I ventured into the daily specials: charcuterie made at the cabane aux sucre, boudin (blood sausage) on top of thick potato purée, suckling pig shank with a creamy stuffed onion and a few choice bottles of Bourgogne red wine. The food was rich, the wine was perfect, conversation was joyous and I felt alive in the way one can only feel in Montreal on a Friday.

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Strangely enough, I have been pretty lucky to get reservations at Pied. The other two major restaurants, Joe Beef and Garde a Manger, were booked solid until April. Not a problem in a city filled with such stellar options as Schwartz’s, Frite Alors, Ruby Rouge for dim sum, and a 3 Brasseurs for microbrews in season.

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In a city where you can go to Atwater Market on Saturday morning and buy a picnic of calvados terrine with pear, a perfect pear tart, French bread, chanterelles and blue foot mushrooms and a wide collection of unique small biere forte, how could you not feel tears in your eyes? Yet, most tourists flock to fast food joints on Ste. Catherine. Sad, but common.

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Life is good. Perhaps this was the first travel wherein I found solace and rest. Not once did I divert my focus from the beauty around me. I never even pulled out my Hasselblad camera to snap a few photographs. Instead, I drank life to the lees and breathed in the cold, winter air to fill my lungs deeply. Such is the difference between survival and comfort.

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Pied Du Cochon: Oh Dear God

 

It is not everyday that one gets a chance to act as The Bauta from the Commedia del’Arte. I decided to purchase this mask for a series of photographs that I am planning in the very near future. I will admit that the wearing of this particular mask brings an odd sense of power, but I suppose that is why such things were so powerful within the context of the carnival. Speaking of the carnival…I ended up being able to procure a 6pm seat at Pied du Cochon this night, and that is alway a show worth the price of admission.

Pied du CochonTo begin the evening, I took the Metro up as far as Mont-Royal and then walked down to Duluth. Scoring a seat at the bar of PDC on the night of was a pleasure I had not expected, but that is the only benefit of being a man alone: most high end restaurants have bar seats left for singles who might put out heavy cash at a meal. Fortunately for me, heavy cash at PDC is only about $150 for a meal of glorious perfection, a bottle of excellent wine and leftovers for the next day. I will easily admit that I wished I had a friend with me to help with the disaster of perfect food that was to avalanche upon me, but I held my own and knew when to say when.

Though Picard is not present at PDC, his line chefs can move a wicked game throughout the pressures of a hot night. In their selection of toques, they made quick work of Picard’s style of Gargantuan-style food. For my own part I was wise enough to settle for a small appetizer of molten foie gras cubes and a pig’s trotter stuffed with foie gras. Even at that minimum I was only able to eat half of the order without going to a bad place. The remainder was wisely left until the morning hunger hits me. I left a smidge of Chateau Neuf de Pape for that express purpose.

Pied Du CochonThe vibe at PDC is what keeps me enthralled with the place. It is not the place you take a sexless waif on a first date. Rather, it is where you take an insatiable woman who appreciates the glories of the body and the carnival. In my time there I have watched countless men mismatch their dates to this venue; it is sad, and yes, I have done the exact same thing. It is a restaurant for a bacchanal, and danse macabre and an appreciation for what is bodily in this life. If you want to have sex with your date, then please accept that it will need to happen before dinner – just sayin’…

Finally, on my way to the restaurant I came across a shop that sold the most beautiful and francophone dresses. I absolutely adore this style of patchwork clothing. It epitomizes the concept of the harlequin, the carnival and the imagination. The colours are muted yet earthy. The fabrics are soft and pliable. The lines are absolutely feminine. Quebec is a compelling place and holds a culture that the rest of our country would do well to emulate.

La Belle Ville: Montreal West in a Morning

My day began with a grumbling tummy and a passion for getting out onto the streets as early as I could. So by 8am I was moving and before 9am I was out. My first destination was Patisserie Belge, a French bakery that I lived above and behind when I moved to the city. I would always away with the smell of warm bread and the smudge of soot from their ovens. I was glad to find it intact. Other places through my journey were hollow facades or chopped up dollar stores. Le Faubourg was a true disappointment as it had been a magical little mall with small merchants. Oh well, all good things…If for nothing else I come to this city for the chausson aux pommes made my this bakery. Yes, their bread is killer and their actual pastries are glorious, but I am trying to cut out wheat in any large quantity from my system, so I had to accept that it was going to be just two chausson this morning. I ate one for breakfast/lunch and it carried me through until 2pm. The flakey buttery pastry and the apple sauce inside are so beautiful. Out of my $20 a week food budget in the poverty days I could squeeze in five chausson a week. For about $2 a day, these would carry me through some tough days. No one else makes them half as well. If you get a chance to stroll up Avenue de Parc, then you must stop in this place. Next stop was McGill. I had hoped to pick up either gym pants or shorts at the bookstore, but it was closed. Instead I was treated to an impressive Remembrance Day ceremony with light artillery and soldiers in kilts. I was happy to see such a large turn-out as soldiers do a job most of us would shudder at. So many family or friends have been involved in the Armed Forces that I would be an idiot to feel anything but respect for the hard work they do.Making my way across de Maisoneuve, I lucked upon a brilliant sculpture outside of the Musee des Beaux Arts. The angel is missing a large section of his [see anatomical parts] inner torso, but their are hands [perhaps signifying renewal struggling to come out of the wound] pulling upwards from the empty hole. I took a few images of this, not only with my phone camera, but also with the Leica M3. I plan on creating a silhouette in Photoshop for an icon or maybe even a tattoo for down the road. Finally, I decided to visit the Atwater Market. It is a place that I never ventured to while living here in Montreal. I simply never had the money for fresh produce, and it is a long hike from where I lived. Today…today though I insisted on pushing on despite blistered feet to see what it had on offer. Were I here with another person, then I would have bought pristine foie gras, perfect lamb loin and boneless rabbit [I apologize to India, who looks like a rabbit]. Given that my hotel has pans and a cooktop, the dinner would have been extraordinary. Alas, for one, that is just idiotic. I would end up either wasting precious animal or being unable to breathe from the amount of food. So instead I opted for items that were distinctly French and Montreal….sort of. The almonds are a new thing for me, as they are Spanish but very popular in California’s Napa wine region. The local pickles will be perfect with the tinned foie gras pate. I usually buy this pate at duty-free in airports, so it was a perk to find it here. One tin will serve as either a meal or appetizer with accoutrements. I also grabbed their last bottle of Bourgogne snails. In Montreal I used to buy snails in cans for $1.29 because it was the cheapest form of protein I could afford. At $14.95 a bottle, I am hoping for a glorious experience. Finally, there was the pate de mason.

I normally would never have entered this shop. It just felt like you needed to be in the know to go in, but given my new aspirations for adventure and the fact that their pates looked so authentic that it hurt, I had to go in. Mmmm, these were brilliant, especially the duck calvados terrine. In the end, I taste things like this, because I can make items like this at home and want to know what heights I am aiming for. I fell like this Christmas season will be the bestest ever.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Montreal: Chinatown, St.Laurent and St. Denis

I became a man in Montreal. On the streets of this city I discovered the night dance that people do when businesses shut doors and people live with each other. While completing my masters degree at McGill, I also learned about poverty and how easy it is to slip into situations where you have no food, no money to pay the rent and a million outside pressures to succeed. I know what life is like to scrounge food from friends; I know what it is like to budget $20 out to cover a week’s food. Montreal taught me this. This city also taught me that I can get behind anything and never give up on myself no matter what the rest of the world thinks.

Montreal also taught me the beauty of the carnivalesque: the colourful, sexual, masquerade that brings true joy into a grey world. While studying here I became a flâneur, who walked the streets at night because he had no other options with which to fill his time. I watched people, I learned the intricate balance between their interactions, and I appreciated the beauty of the dance. My thesis came to reflect the world I saw, Vampires Incorporated examined how the carnival shapes our human narrative. The mask shown above caught my eye, and will probably end up coming back with me if the cost is not prohibitive: masks will make brilliant props for the upcoming series of photographs I will be shooting.

I spent about five hours walking from my hotel in the old port to Chinatown and then on to St. Laurent and St. Denis. The memories, good and bad flooded back to me, and at a time when I thought that I had come to peace with the ghosts left behind I found a few key pieces that needed to be put to rest. As I strolled into Chinatown I recalled the little orange tree and pepper plants I bought from a Chinese woman on the street who reminded me of my dead grandmother. I thought of the nights spent drinking pichets of St. Ambroise at the Copacabana. I remembered going to dinner with Colin Hill at The Main as he whispered opinions about what Leonard Cohen ordered there. Faizal Deen cooking me a tinned salmon stir fry while rambling on about Michael Ondaatje in incoherently glorious mumbles. I thought of my first dinner at Fondumentale with the woman who would later become my wife for nine years. I thought of the fights, the walking out and the being left alone. I remembered the abandonment and that I had plugged my way through all of it to become who I am. Despite all of those hard memories, I felt alive and quick in what remains my favourite Canadian city.

My expedition into Chinatown had me visiting the old grocery shops I knew: the place where I bought my hardcore steel wok that I still use today; the place where I buy moon cakes. Tonight though, I walked by a dive with roast ducks hanging in the window, and while I normally would have passed on going inside and regretted it later I thought of my experience on Wednesday night. I went in, sat down and ordered the duck. Hilariously, the head waiter was enthralled with my Leica M3 camera and by the end of the dinner almost every server in the place had asked to hold it. The duck and rice tasted superb, though it was mostly from hunger and the happiness I felt at allowing myself to do the things I want to do.

My room at the Hotel St. Sulpice was upgraded to a deluxe suite that is bigger than my condo in Toronto. The bed is to die for, I have couches and leather chairs. There is a stovetop [like I am going to cook in Montreal], and a giant bathtub for two. Sadly, I am alone on this journey, and that is for the best, because when I finish with Montreal I will be a much stronger man yet again, and the value of that, given what I want to build in my life, is critical.

So no romance for me on this trip, but there will be many more trips back to Montreal in my near future, which is good because the Old Port is so deeply romantic with its intimately lit restaurants and vintage scene. Nope, my day tomorrow will be spent looking for smoked meat, armagnac, coffee darker than an eclipse and a few masquerade items. Life is good, I am rising.

Final Note: I just re-read the introduction to the thesis I wrote here…and it sent chills down my spine with how well-crafted my writing was; such a cool feeling to experience that while here in the place it was written. 

 

 

What I Do At 3am: Product Photography Before Montreal

Base Camp X

 

This past week has been the richest collection of experiences that I have been able to string together in my life. From music at the Horseshoe Tavern and Cameron House to a mead-making workshop to a wicked tattoo and a wide collection of private moments that mean the world to me, I have found my stride after a long period of self-doubt and difficult choices. As I sit on VIA Rail Train 52 en route to Montreal with The Tragically Hip’s Live Between Us album on heavy rotation, my head is spinning from the satisfaction of success. My head is probably also spinning from the lack of sleep. At 3am I dragged my body out of bed to photograph products from Base Camp X and Paderno.

The brilliance of my photographic work is that it allows me to eat great food, meet great people, and pay for my travel. The challenge of this work is finding the time to shoot products that need to be off to designers with a quick turnaround. Some nights that means I am building a portfolio of images well past midnight when the rest of the world sleeps. Still, this is my life’s work, the work that I am most passionate about getting right because it matters to me.

prototypes

 

The rush job was for Paderno and comprised of two shots: a magnetic knife set in black and a pair of salad servers. I needed to get this work done because I am on the road for almost a week between Montreal and Las Vegas. Fortunately, I had a colourful collection of greens from this week’s dinner and was able to construct a bright, vibrant salad that I am now eating on Train 52.

Paderno Cookware

After this main session I also wanted to capture a white background shot for Base Camp X of Graeme’s truly wicked tomahawk. Given the reflective qualities of the translucent red finish, it was difficult to capture the wood grain here, but the colour and feel of this piece is truly special  – the objects that Graeme puts together make it worth getting up from bed in the darkness. Also featured here is my collection of knives from BCX. I have to admit that the hybrid kukhri on the right is the best balanced knife that I have ever handled, and its hidden features make it blindingly useful for outdoor adventures. Sadly, this is a prototype sample that will not be making it to the real world. Happily, it is perfect for the photographic series I have been planning for the past month.

The next three days will have me in Montreal taking a long-needed break to heal. I plan on sleeping, grazing on the best patisserie in the country, drinking a few choice bottles of French bordeaux and maybe hitting a spa in between walks through the city. Photos on the blog will be dispatches from my iPhone, as I chose to take along my 1964 Leica M3 film camera to take photographs for my memories.Travelling light should keep me moving, and these days movement is everything.