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Excerpt: Introduction to “Montreal Cooks”

The following introduction is by Jonathan Cheung, co-author of Montreal Cooks.

I grew up in the restaurant business. In fact, that’s all I really know. When I was ten years old, running into the kitchen of my family’s restaurant in Vancouver was probably the most exciting thing I could think of. Watching flames bursting out from underneath the woks, fish frying in vats of bubbling oil and huge pots of chowder simmering on the stove was my version of heaven.

I was lucky. From a very young age, I already knew that I wanted to be a cook. The kitchen was where the action was. It was where I saw chefs grinding away, night after night, creating deliciously beautiful dishes out of fresh raw ingredients. And where I first saw people eating and grinning with satisfaction after taking their first bite of a meal. It was that feeling that fuelled my passion: I don’t cook to eat. I cook to feed. Watching people enjoy my food gives me much more joy than savouring exquisitely prepared meals myself.

Although my roots are in restaurants, I didn’t truly discover my passion for all things food until I moved from Vancouver, via Hong Kong, to Montreal in 2004. This city is a special place. Almost like the perfect storm, it combines small, intimate spaces; access to some of the greatest food markets in North America; and creative chefs deeply rooted in their own culinary heritage. And the result is one of the most exciting and diverse restaurant scenes in the world. It’s no wonder that so many chefs converge on Montreal for inspiration.

The food in this city can excite even the tamest of palates. The terroir of Quebec runs deep and provides some of the most unique ingredients around. Maple syrup, artisan cheeses, fresh duck and foie gras are just the tip of the iceberg. Venison from the Outaouais, seafood from the Gaspé and lamb from the Charlevoix are all regular standouts on the menus of Montreal’s finest restaurants. Accompanying them are local seasonal products like fiddleheads and garlic scapes from some of the forty-five thousand independent farmers in the region, the vegetables treated with equal respect to the proteins on the plate.

But eating out in Montreal is not just about the food. It’s the whole orchestra. On any given night at any given restaurant, Tays, my wife, and I are likely to run into friends or clients, chat with the chef about a new favourite cookbook and sip some of the finest wines the sommelier is excited about that day. But whether you live here or not, Montreal is one of the most electrifying places in the world to eat. Travelling to this city purely for food is surprisingly common. Tourists make a point of experiencing what they read about and see in the media. It’s this joie de vivre, this convivial atmosphere, that makes Montreal and its restaurants such a wonderful place to eat.

Although I don’t currently work in a traditional restaurant, having a shop like Appetite for Books has allowed me to meet many great cooks in this city. People in every aspect of the industry, from chefs de cuisine to dishwashers, have perused the shelves of the bookstore trying to find the right book or recipe. And after chatting with all these people about our shared passion for food, the experience of eating in their restaurants is even more special. So when you read through Montreal Cooks and meet the chefs behind some of my and Tays’s favourite restaurants, you can now get your own taste of Montreal—whether the food is prepared in their kitchen or your own.

Putting together this book has allowed Tays and me to relive our restaurant experiences and get the details about who is behind the meals we’ve shared in our nearly ten years of eating out together. It’s also inspired us to be better cooks. The chefs featured here push boundaries with their ingredients, their flavour pairings and the techniques they use to prepare their dishes. Among their recipes, you’ll encounter wintry meals and light summery ones, dishes that are quick to whip up and some that may challenge you. But we guarantee that anything you sample from this book will transport you to Montreal—in spirit, if not in person.

This city has a very long history as a culinary destination for food lovers not only within Canada but from around the world. The ritual of eating good food and enjoying life is second nature to Montrealers. Trends may change, tastes may evolve, but our culinary scene will forever be incomparable.

Tays and I always say that a good meal creates a great memory. So go make some great memories in your kitchen—and then come visit all of us in Montreal!

Montreal Cooks is available in bookstores now!

July 12, 2016
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