Make it Here: An Interview with Chef Normand Laprise[Record]

  • Benyamin Spiegel

Chef Normand Laprise is a legendary figure in Quebec’s culinary scene and an outspoken advocate of locally sourced cuisine. Co-owner and head chef of Montreal’s famous Restaurant Toqué!, his newest venture, Brasserie T!, opened this summer in Montreal. CuiZine spoke with him in Montreal on Tuesday, February 17th, 2009. When I started to learn to cook and learn where to go to work, the mentality was that you have to learn the maximum recipe, maximum technique, for your apprenticeship to be better and to have better skills. However, at the same time nobody taught you how to buy food and choose between the good and bad produce. When I started to cook around 20 years old, several chefs working in Quebec were from France and everyone just complained about Quebec, saying “all the food is poor,” “the meat is not good,” “the fish is not good, “the food is not fresh,” or “the vegetables are too big.” People complained all the time and were never happy. And I said, “why won’t you go to see the right person and avoid the wholesale distributors?” Go see the person on the farm and explain with him what’s happening. This is for me, when I started to understand the importance of being in contact with people from la ferme, l'océan or from wherever. For me, when I opened my first Toqué! Restaurant here on Rue St. Denis, I sourced my greens from David Colmeyer at Cookstown Greens in Ontario. I ordered my greens from them because in Quebec at that time nobody liked to make food the same way as him. One of my purveyors saw his food and said, “Wow that’s nice.” I said, “this is what I’ve been talking to you about for three years. Make it here and I’ll buy from you because Cookstown is six hours from here.” He was so difficult to change because he didn’t know better. That was the culture at the time. Ask any kid here what was Camembert or Roquefort and he won’t know. Maybe some will, but that was the culture. I think in Canada [such a] food culture has [become] stronger and stronger. If you go back 20 years ago, people didn’t talk about food the way they talk about it right now. It’s exciting now to think about the next 10 years.