Don’t miss the Vegan Rumble & Shake at the Drugstore on June 15th at 8:30pm. Nutrisco and ‘Round Table Tours are hosting this face-off between ChuChai, Crudessence and Green Panther. Each restaurant will be backed by an urban farm: Lufa, D-Trois Pierres, Zephyr and Carya, by a food supplier: Prana, Les Douceurs du Marché and Truffe Import. They will also be associated with a blogger and exercise activity. 4 Corners of the Table is asscoiated with ChuChai, Amie Watson of Midnight Poutine with Crudessence and Marie-Ève Savaria of Brutalimentation with Green Panther. The sports include hip-hop dancing with Ethel Bruneau‘s descendents, a work-out activity with Sportera and pilates with Goa. Participants sign-up in one of the three teams and follow their team’s activity. From the activity, the chefs will recruit assistants to help them assemble 300 bites! All fifteen recruited helpers (five per team) will receive a prize. Twelve prizes of a value of two hundred dollars will be given including extravagant dinners, free sports and dance training, organic vegetable baskets and food tours as well as three prizes of a value of $75: food, food and more food). After the ‘Rumble’ comes the tasting and the ‘Shake’. There will be dj’s and mingling.
Tickets are $20 and are available for sale at info (at) nutrisco dot ca and in the participating restaurants (ChuChai, Crudessence and Green Panther) Get them soon, they’re going like energy balls!
How did a zany night like this come about you may ask…..
I have been hard at work on the development of various food tours for my new food tour company ‘Round Table Tours or Tours de la Table (recipient of the best female entrepreneurial project in Montreal in 2013.) The most recently added tour is called Vegan Montreal. It is a tour of tasting in vegan restaurants, food production sites and on urban farms. I wanted to do a tour that wasn’t about meat, sugar and booze, but one that focused on well-being, ethical business practices, sustainability and the future.
I interviewed the owners of Crudessence, ChuChai, Aux Vivres, Prana, Lufa farms and the agricultural director of Santropol Roulant. I heard their amazing stories and saw businesses that were putting their deeper values to work and offering examples of what the future could look like. From Crudessence that strives to “be the change”, to Lufa that strives to grow vegetables in the city for the city without using more land, to Prana that creates organic, raw, vegan, gluten-free sustainable snacks, to Aux Vives that makes vegan food a “normality” with their comfort food approach and bringing food to the 80% non-vegan masses that is their clientele, and Green Panther that has created a lush and swinging oasis in the city. ChuChai redefines veganism as luxury and a party. Yes a party, they have taken control of the kitchen at the Drugstore and are catering the Piknik Électronik. It was when I approached ChuChai that I met their promoter Aisha Issa aka Nutrisco Sensorial Marketing. She right away proposed that we do an event to ring in the summer and announce their new presence at Drugstore and at Piknik as well as the beginning of the Montreal Vegan tour. She suggested we leverage with other vegan restaurants. She told me to think about it and get back to her.
I have had the privilege of being good friends with Judith Colombo the agricultural director of the largest organic farm on the island of Montreal, D-Trois Pierres, for ten years, and I know they are always looking for partners and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if there were urban farmers in the mix?’ My tours are about networking and team-building, so I started thinking of how I could incorporate a sense of team and participation into the event. I thought of Ethel Bruneau’s family of tap and hip hop dancers, Kevin Pillu of Sportera (winner in the Quebec Entrepreneurship contest for Services to Businesses) and Dana El-Hallack of Goa Pilates. We needed someone to put the event on an unconventional pedestal and bloggers seemed to be the way. I also thought that the bloggers should have a challenge and opportunity to collaborate, so I thought of different mediums to associate with each one: photo, paint and video (Mélanie Dusseault, Jean-Phillippe Cousineau and Rachel et Michel). This was great as the event became part of FIMA’s programming. The idea was so wacky, but if you’re going to leverage and be wacky, you may as well do it right. Everyone said yes and embarked on the collective craziness! (except Aux Vivres who was renovating and Santropol Roulant whose production is too limited in mid-June. Green Panther, Jardins Carya and Fermes du Zephyr quickly took-over)
The Vegan Montreal tour highlights innovation, new approaches and practices and those businesses that transcend conventional boundaries. It was in the Vegan community where I found a feverish enthusiasm, a can-do attitude and a love for creating outside-of-the-box. From the food production sites, to the farms to the restaurants I was met with goodwill and a desire to share and grow in collaboration.
The Vegan Montreal tour is tested and and raring to go. From visiting Lufa, the only rooftop commercial greenhouse, to ChuChai’s innovative fake meat in the thai tradition (no onions and garlic- Buddhist temple-style), to Crudessence’s workshops that spread the good news about live food and experimenting in the loft, to the pioneering of Aux Vivres, the funkyness of Green Panther, Rise Kombucha’s mother mushroom (!!!), Prana’s factory and Santropol’s oasis in the city, the Vegan Montreal tour brings you into a universe that you may think you know, but you really don’t until you get inside and behind the scenes! All participants in the Rumble & Shake will receive a 20% discount on the Vegan Montreal Tour, and three people will win a free tour.
Come on out and Rumble, Tour and Shake!
I have the privilege of blogging for the ChuChai team and being on an all-girl team of chefs, dancers, farmers, shop managers and photographers. See the gallery below of the ladies on the team:
I don’t have a photo of Erica Dancose from Les Douceurs du Marché, but you’ll meet her there!
The Librairie Espagnole on St. Lawrence boulevard: what a mysterious place! I have stumbled in there a few times over the years, usually eyeing the shelves suspiciously, wondering what they do here, but the whirlwind of food, books, pinatas, soccer jerseys, shoes, terracotta and cookware have started to settle in an arrangement that makes […]
The Librairie Espagnole on St. Lawrence boulevard: what a mysterious place! I have stumbled in there a few times over the years, usually eyeing the shelves suspiciously, wondering what they do here, but the whirlwind of food, books, pinatas, soccer jerseys, shoes, terracotta and cookware have started to settle in an arrangement that makes sense; or maybe I am just getting used to it?
I first saw Benmar at El Centro Gallego, the Galician Social Club on St. Lawrence boulevard. I was quietly informed that his father had La Libreria Española, but had died and now his mother and him ran it. The tone that was used was one of solemnity and reverence. I later approached Ben in November 2011 for the profiling of the businesses on St-Lawrence boulevard that I was doing for a gastronomic walking tour for Fitz & Follwell. I asked if I could have a few minutes to collect the history and some anecdotal tid-bits about La Librairie Espagnole. We spoke for an hour and a half, and this little world made more and more sense as he told the story. Finally, I spent June 20th, 2012 with the manager and soon-to-be owner Benmar Franco to see what a day of his looks like, and to get to the bottom of this place.
He was very apologetic as he explained the arduous process of detangling 40 years of inherited organizational chaos. Piles of product catalogues and samples stacked-up over the years furnished his office. The tasks of buying a freezer, fixing a fridge, etc heaped the to the to-do list. How did the 27 year-old Benmar get to where he is, feeling like he has never caught up or “got it together” staring st the pile infinite pile of work on hand?
The majority of Spanish immigrants came to Montreal as part of Spanish immigration projects (eg. Oreracion Bisonte, Operacion Marta) in the late 50’s and 60’s to work on cattle farms, as domestics or in the textile industry, or of their own device and always to flee a brutal post-war Spain. The Plateau became their neighbourhood. La Librairie Espagnole was opened by Jose Manuel Sanchez in 1964 on the corner of Roy and St-Dominique. It was a Spanish media store with newspapers, books and magazines that kept Spanish immigrants up to speed with what was going on in Spain. Narciso Franco immigrated to Montreal in 1967. He bought the Librairie in 1974. Benjamin Franco, Narciso’s brother, immigrated from Spain in 1976 to come and help his brother with the shop. Benmar Franco Iglesias, Benjamin’s son, said jokingly that a helicopter picked him up and dropped him directly in the shop. Narciso also bought a Latin American grocery and media store on Rachel in 1976 called El Hogar Latin. In the 70’s, La Libreria started importing Spanish food. In 1978, conflicts with a landlord, a flood and the need for more space pushed Narciso to move La Librairie from the St-Dominique and Roy location and consolidate it with El Hogar Latin in its present home at 3811 St. Lawrence boulevard. La Libreria Española became the go-to for Spanish food products. They were also the only importer of Latin American food products in the 70’s.
Ben’s mother, Maria Iglesias, of Spanish parents, grew-up in Montreal, but retained her Spanish Basque identity. Her father, Rodolfo Iglesias, was already importing coffee with Ben’s paternal Uncle Narcisso before his father Benjamin immigrated to Canada. His parents met in what is now the Salsathèque. Benmar was born in the 80’s and raised in Lasalle, but spent his weekends on the Plateau in the Spanish area. He grew-up with other second generation Spanish children, and the community was tight-knit through the 70’s and 80’s.
In 2006, Benmar’s father died suddenly. Arrangements had not been made for the unforeseen death. Ben’s mom, Maria Iglesias who now owned Voyages Iglesias, became the owner, but did not have the time to run it. Ben had just finished Cégep at twenty-one and was on his way to study Publicity, but was nursing a dream of living in Spain. He left it all behind to take care of the family store.
Ben is sheepish of the imperfections and the store’s lack of focus, but through the colourful cacophony of products, there is a real desire to accommodate and please. He is learning, however, to choose his battles, and that he can’t please everyone. The book/magazine section is now all the way in the back and very symbolic. They don’t make money on the printed word section anymore as it occupies one third of the space in the store and only account s for 7% of the sales. They still bring the minimum magazines and newspapers, like ¡Hola!, for example, (the Spanish version of Paris Match, that the older women come to buy religiously each week.) The shipping of such a small number of copies eats all of the profit, but there is also the possibility that those crossing the bridge and paying parking to get a magazine or newspaper, will buy some olives or a piece of chorizo. Then there is the double-edged sword of supplying soccer paraphernalia, as people want jerseys for their kid, a big flag, bracelets, a scarf and a little flag for the car, etc., and if the team is eliminated they are stuck with the stock. But the gear is all there. This willingness to please, teamed with the unpretentious products jumping off the shelves and hanging on hooks, also gives a warmth and integrity to the store and demonstrates their ability to adapt. The store has morphed with the needs of the time and customers now supplying La Bellota the Rolls Royce of Spanish ham at $400/kilo. The store also serves as a bridge between first and second generation Spanish and the new arrivals from Spain. Ben does his best to re-create the tight-knit sense of community that his parents benefitted from by providing familiar products to new Spanish arrivals and directing them to the circuit of Spanish social clubs and the network of Spaniards in Montreal.
The store is down to earth and genuine, but it is no small affair! They have warehouse space in the back and at another location. They import in a 40 foot container of turron (an almond candy) every year, three 20 foot containers of olives and fifteen twenty foot containers of yerba matte. The store’s sales have been stable throughout the recession: some clients buy less, but their clientele is always growing.
As the day progresses, I see the computer system Ben put in to replace the paper system, the assistant he is training to take over the office, invoices, and payments, the back-store he renovated and re-organized; the basement that he re-organized (that his Uncle deepened for three months with a pick!); the warehouse changes, the store’s changes, the elaboration of products, especially cheese and deli products, importation files and follow-up, calculating prices, all while greeting clients and receiving orders by fax, mail, e-mail, telephone and in person. He supplies, amongst others, La Vielle Europe, Exo Fruits, Grumann, Casa Tapas, Barraca and the terracotta for all of Montreal. They also ship to Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Calgary, Quebec City, Edmonton and Mississauga.
The store closes at 6:00pm. Ben says the most important lesson he has learned is “not to be afraid of making mistakes”. He claims he doesn’t have the natural inclinations of an entrepreneur: he isn’t aggressive enough, he’s too indecisive and doesn’t like taking risks. He is self-effacing, even though he has revolutionized the store, and he started the process at 21 years of age. He juggles satisfying stores, restaurants, and individual clients that want anything from chorizo, to shampoo, to shoes, to Spanish Western novels, and he puts a personal touch on all transactions. He is looking at buying property for another project, investing in another business and he still nurses a dream of having a little pinxto bar and Spanish food boutique.
Please come tapear with me, go from place to place eating tapas, on the Iberian Montreal tour with ‘Round Table Tours : eating tapas, pintxos and petiscos paired with great wine around Montreal’s original Iberian Quarter at three restaurants, a specialized grocery store and a food production site. Meet the chefs and entrepreneurs and hear their stories.
*Please visit the website of Mélanie Dusseault at http://melaniedusseault.com/fr/
I am overjoyed to announce the launch of Fitz & Follwell’s Flavours of the Main Tour. The tour leaves Chinatown and eats its way up the Main to Jean-Talon Market! It is 5 hours of following in the steps of Montreal’s various cultural communities along the Main and tasting their culinary emblems. The tour weaves history, cultural identity and experience with delicious flavours, aromas and the stories that have been cooked up over the last 100 years on the Main!
If you haven’t heard of Fitz & Follwell, it was originally called Montreal Cycling Tours and has been in operation for almost 4 years. It was founded by young and swinging entrepreneur Shea Mayer. His laid-back cycling tours are the foundation of the company, but the boon of his company has seen the birth of a slick shop at 115 Mount-Royal W., the sale of chic urban bikes, and more recent tours on foot- including Flavours of the Main. Shea also offers snowshoe tours in the winter.
What Shea has going on is great, and I have had the privilege of being aboard this forward-gliding yet un-conventional ship since last November. Shea had the idea of a food tour of the Main with a focus on the cultural communities. He enlisted the help of historian Leah Blythe and through the trick of fate and a little bird named Eric Hanson I was recommended for the gastronomic design.
Shea and I plugged through the legal stuff and I attacked a full-time 4 week collection of data, testimony, food-sample cataloguing… and tasting of course! I interviewed some 50 businesses to survey what was feasible, pertinent, and to get a bird’s eye view so we could craft the most delicious tour in terms of food and anecdotes. I taped many of the interviews, typed-out the results, profiled the businesses, collected food history, anecdotes, did research, and visited museum archives. I also spent hours and hours in Nathalie Cooke‘s old Mcgill Institute for the Study of Canada office reading her food history, food theory and gastronomy books to get more tools to use to analyze food and one’s experience of it. Nathalie is now Mc Gill’s associate Provost. I also had great help from Andrée Levesque, a feminist and worker historian who helped me to understand the realities of brothels until the 1930’s in the old Red Light. She also documented “Red on the Main” and introduced me to Eva Circé-Côté who has become an inspiration to me. (I recomend Andrée’s book Eva Circé-Côté: Libre penseuse 1871- 1949.) Velma Candyass and Ethel Bruneau also helped me to get an idea of what the Red Light looked like back in Montréal’s “Las Vegas days,” helping me to visualize the ambiance and different people hard at work there. Susan Semenak, who wrote The Market Chronicles even gave me her favourites and re-iterated the points it is essential to drive home about the street, the Jean-Talon Market and Montreal food.
I enjoyed the experience more than I can express in words. I met wonderful people that inspired me with their dedication, growth and unwavering passion for what they do. I learned so much, and this was the experience that seemed to be the missing link between my honours degree in Canadian Studies and my DEP in Professional Cooking. The experience also brought me down some emotional alleyways, like the interview with Mr. Chin that does dragon candy, as I’ve known his son Philippe for many years. George, the owner of Wing’s, toured me through Chinatown, describing it in the 1970’s, giving me the in-depth history of Wing’s and Chinatown. Angelo Perusko of Charcuterie Hongrois spent 2 hours telling me how he got from Communist Croatia to where he is now. Elena Faita from Quaincallerie Dante graced me with her philosophy of generosity, diligence and humility and reminded me that “Recessions are a push. You have to push on and innovate and define yourself and take risks. People get discouraged right away and want things to drop in their platter. It doesn’t come on a silver platter.” Sharon Wilensky from Wilensky’s wiped some tears as she spoke of a regular client who had died recently. Irwin Schlafman, owner of Fairmount Bagel let me in on the family history loops that have been repeating…and that he’s a vegan! Frank the general manager of Schwartz’s even took an hour out of his day to give me some juicy melt in your mouth tid-bits and history about Schwartz.
The investigation also reminded me of working at Chinatown Bar during my university party years, working at El Centro Gallego and the Spanish hospitality I have received in the culinary world as well as my long history with the Portuguese, my love for their food, and the love of food of the Italians that I witnessed during my cooking internship in Italy, at St-Pius Culinary institute and in the Italian restaurants I worked in. These communities have directly affected my personal, professional and culinary life over the years.
I was able to contest to the tightness, simplicity and un-pretentiousness of the food products that have kept people coming back for decades in Montreal. There are so many special things to taste. We really struggled to keep it tight and there were shops that we had to axe.
Leah did wonderful work on the history of the different cultural communities, helping to explain how settlement along the main took place and why people came to Montreal and settled where they did. She painted a great portrait of the lives of different communities at different periods. After blending our efforts, I am very proud to present the results. We have built a great working dynamic of hand feeding hand-picked story, history and food samples. Our styles are complimentary- hers more poised and dealing in larger trends, whereas I help people to get into the microcosm of each shop in an- eh hmmm- intense presentation-style. I am who I am….
Tours are offered 7 days a week. They are $99 and worth every penny. They are a great way for a visitor to see the best food places in Montreal and get a feel for how Montreal has evolved to where it is, but the tour is just as good for the Montrealer who wants to learn about the cultural landscape of their own city and about the people they have been buying food from since they can remember! Come and enjoy an extended lunch of learning, story and local gourmandise! The tour is 5 hours long or it is possible to do two and a half hour tours ($69) or or two two hour and 45 min tours with break in the middle ($119). (There is a discount for people 17 and under.) You will have Leah as a charming historical companion, me as a gastronomic and entrepreneurial companion, or both of us!
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