He’s been Montreal’s best-known young chef for a while now, since his restaurant, Garde Manger, became a hit television show, and since he became Canada’s latest Iron Chef after beating the (almost) unbeatable Bobby Flay. Yes, indubitably, there’s something special about Chuck Hughes…
It’s hard to believe Garde Manger, Hughes’ first happening spot in Old Montreal, has already been open for seven years (and his second, Le Bremner, almost a year). Chuck has chosen to celebrate the itch that comes with this anniversary with his first cookbook – called, simply – Garde Manger. The restaurant is named after the position in the kitchen that Chuck loves most – that of cold station, or (in French) Garde Manger. His simple, fresh, cheeky takes on industry standards – General Tao Lobster, anyone? – make for a fun read and a mouthwatering kitchen companion.
We caught up with Chuck on his latest trip (he’s doing book tour stops as well as shooting two new shows, Chuck’s Week Off, which airs on Food Network Canada starting August 28, and Chuck Eats the Street, in which he noshes at some of America’s most iconic roadways). From the road, Chuck tells us what he’s most looking forward to in Montreal this summer – and which of Garde Manger’s recipes is a keeper.
Melora Koepke: Hi Chuck! I’m just flipping through the cookbook – it’s making me hungry. If a fan wanted to come down to the restaurant right now, would they find some of the stuff from the book on the menu?
Chuck Hughes: Yeah, a lot of the things in the book are on the menu. We’ve been open for almost 7 years, so in order to make the book work, we had to break it down. So many recipes didn’t make the cut, not because they’re not good, but because they didn’t really define us. This being our first book, and a book about the restaurant, we really wanted to show the hits.
MK: I want to make General Tao Lobster right now. It really appeals to me.
CH: That’s good. If there is one recipe in the book that people should make at home, that’s totally emblematic of what we do, I’d have to say it’s the salmon tartare – it’s a classic, but the way we do it is completely different. It’s a good example of what the restaurant does – I’m not saying that we’re reinventing food, I would never make that claim, but we do like to take some things and add our own little twist on it. This a recipe that represents us well.
MK: Will are your summer in Montreal plans? Are you going to cater Osheaga again this year?
CH: Yes ma’am! I’m traveling for a bit, but I’m also in Montreal quite a lot. This summer, I’m really looking forward to Heavy MTL and Osheaga – those are really the biggest weeks of my summer. Osheaga’s the hit, the highlight of my whole summer. Basically, we set up an outdoor kitchen that is fully pumping for the whole time. This year once again, it’ll be bigger and better than last year in terms of artists, and food.
When I cater to all those bands it’s important to make sure everyone is treated in a VIP manner – there’s a lot of allergies, a lot of gluten-free, a lot of vegans, vegetarians, all that stuff, so I have a lot of challenges. But the best part of it is to be involved in this whole thing, and to be able to cook outside for 2 weeks – that’s how I started, cooking for bands, and now I’m lucky that I get to do these two events at Parc des Iles, which is gorgeous. In the summertime, it’s the place to be.
MK: Who are you looking forward to cooking for/listening to most?
CH: Snoop Dogg is coming back – last time he was here, I broke my ankle the day he was there, so I’m looking forward to actually seeing what kind of foodie he is. They just announced Common, and I like him, so that’ll be awesome. And then there’s the locals, Metric, Feist is awesome too. Black Keys – we’ll be doing a lot of good barbecue, so I’m looking forward to finding out what they think about it.
MK: So, the thing you’re looking forward to this summer is, essentially, working. I guess it’s how you stay out of trouble, right?
CH: Yeah! I travel so much – the show is aired in over 30 countries, and people come eat at the restaurant from all over the world. Puerto Rico, Dallas, Hong Kong, we have a lot of fans who come down because they want to take that picture. I’m lucky, I love to be at the restaurant, and that’s where I’ll be for the best part of my summer. I’m going to focus on that and try to be present at the resto this summer, and in Montreal, which is such a great city.
Chuck Hughes is signing cookbooks in Montreal this Saturday, June 2: 10am-12pm at Costco (300 Bridge Street) and 3-4pm at Appetite for Books (388 Victoria Avenue).