In need of a sugar rush to kickstart your metabolism as winter drags endlessly to a close? For the fifth year in a row, a sugar shack welcomes you in the Scena space on Montreal Old Port’s Jacques-Cartier Quay. After top chefs Danny St Pierre (2010), Patrice Demers and Marc-André Jetté (2011), Martin Juneau (2012) and Helena Loureiro (2013), Laurent Godbout will be cooking up a storm in the spectacular surroundings of Un Chef à l’Érable, the aptly-named seasonal event.
Last Sunday March 9 saw the media launch with the usual flock of journalists, celebrities, bloggers and all. I rarely attend such launches mostly because of a busy family life but Scena was kind enough to provide a +1, so I brought along ze kiddo for his very first media shindig (in my usual desire to maintain his anonymity, you can see my budding foodie from the back only in the photograph accompanying the Where? When? How? info below).
Menu wise, no surprise there, Laurent thrilled us with a succession of dishes that revamp the traditional sugar shack menu with his trademark creativity. I adored the “cretons”, a paté-like jar of foie gras and diced ham, the kind of idea you can actually replicate at home. Kiddo, like most of the surrounding males, went crazy over the bacon s’mores and the tartiflette, a gratin of potatoes, squash, apple and bacon. Another favourite was the pea soup served with maple crème fraîche — I am so borrowing that idea too —, as well as the addictive maple and raspberry cones. Impossible to review the hay-and-maple ham, we were so stuffed to the gills by then that I was literally sending back dishes. No, they don’t provide doggie bags at media launches.
With spring in the air, should you visit the sugar shack, do plan a walk through Old Montreal as it slowly and charmingly wakes up from its wintery slumber. Let’s face it, you’ll need the exercise after ingesting the 3000+ calories from the killer menu. When I remember that we have reservations for the Pied de cochon Sugar Shack in April, my stomach suddenly recoils in fear, go figure.
Where? When? How? How much?
The Chef à l’érable Sugar Shack is open for weekend brunches; nights provide a more loungy urban setting.
Where: Jacques-Cartier Quay in Montreal Old Port; if you want to avoid the headache, the King Edward Quay parking lot is right next door but pricey (around $16 for 2-3 hours)
When: March 14 to mid-April, from Friday night to Sunday noon — see the website for opening hours
Price: $60 per person before tax and service, there doesn’t seem to be a child special (?)
Reservation: 514.503.9802 or email@example.com
The Chef: Laurent Godbout
The year is 2006, which makes me feel darn old just thinking about it. I have the pleasure of coordinating part of the Toqués de Natrel chef competition in the kitchens of Montreal’s Tourism Institute (ITHQ). A rising young chef with a then-new restaurant called Chez L’Épicier, Laurent Godbout has brought his A-game: a deconstructed dessert which was quite innovative for the times. Good-natured, casually intense and a tad rebellious, he has installed a serving cart right next door to the jury room so he can put together his dessert, fearing that the trip from the kitchen to the jury might topple his elaborate construction. (In high-level food competitions, chefs need to plan dishes that can safely cross the whole premises or risk losing precious points.)
When I inform Laurent that his setup is illegal, with a mischievous smile and daring eyes, he asks me to point out where the rules stipulate so. Well, a chef-cum-lawyer-cum-competitive daredevil all in one, who knew… With no hard feelings, plans are made to modify next year’s official rules and Laurent goes on to win gold his way. Because, of course, his dessert transports the jury.
Fast-forward to 2014. Since then, the baby-faced chef has opened multiple restaurants, including Attelier Archibald in Granby. In a year’s time, he will become the first Québec chef to represent Canada at the famous Bocuse d’Or, a French gastronomy contest that pits countries against each other.
During my visit to Un Chef à l’Érable, I asked him how he succeeds in managing multiple restaurants, sugar shacks in Granby and Old Montreal, plus preparing for the Bocuse. “It’s simple, I don’t sleep,” he confesses while piping whipped cream onto dozens of sugar cones. With a budget of $250,000 as opposed to the one million plus invested by other countries, despite his ferocious competitive spirit (you got that right?), Laurent has set his sights on making top seven. One has the feeling he would aim higher with deeper-pocket sponsors. Regardless, here’s looking at you, chef!
If you wish to learn more about the Bocuse d’Or, and get an insight into what may be Godbout’s life away from the sugar shack, I warmly recommend Knives at Dawn by Andrew Friedman. Admittedly a tad long and lacking in rhythm, it still provides an amazing insider look at the US team preparation for the Bocuse d’Or 2009. The portraits of team mentors Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller alone are worth the read.
Jumble of pictures taken by kiddo with my iPhone or graciously provided by Scena
Photo credit: Savitri Bastiani