Sometimes the job of writing about food for Montreal Buzz seems less like a job and more like a lucky break – and this was certainly the case one sunny Saturday this summer when I joined six other lucky people who had won a Facebook contest put on by Montreal’s InterContinental Hotel…
The contest’s grand prize was an overnight stay at Montreal’s InterContinental Hotel, along with a chance to spend the day on an “Ultimate Culinary Experience” in Montreal with Chef Matthieu Saunier, the young French chef behind Osco!, the hotel’s award-winning Provencal Restaurant. Chef Matthieu is only 29 years old, but he is already well established as one of Montreal’s up-and-coming young culinary lions. He led us on a quest to find some tasty stops on a Montreal food treasure hunt of sorts…
After a continental breakfast in the hotel’s executive lounge, we headed up to Montreal’s largest farmers’ market, Jean-Talon Market. There, Chef Matthieu and the contest winners shopped for the fruits and veggies that would provide inspiration for an improvised meal they’d cook for us at the end of our long day on the town.
From garlic scapes to candy-cane beets by way of fancy mushrooms and strawberries, we left the market already laden with the beginnings of a fabulous meal! Though both Matthieu and his sous-chef, who are both from the south of France, proclaimed our Quebec grown garlic “too mild” for their Mediterranean palates!
After the market, we headed to Chef Mathieu’s favourite butcher, La Maison du Roti, a Montreal institution on Avenue Mont-Royal. I knew their storefront is one of the best places in town for ready-made dishes and thin-sliced meats for “fondue chinoise”, but I also learned that they supply more than 300 restaurants in town with meat for their menus. The next stop was fish mega-warehouse La Mer, where Chef Matthieu picked up fresh ocean-harvested fish for our dinner.
After our hard-earned picnic on the shores of the canal in the Old Port, we got to harvest fresh greens for supper from the chef’s kitchen garden on the roof of the Palais des Congrès, across the street from the hotel. Then, it was off to our rooms for a welcome respite before dinnertime.
My room on one of the hotel’s high floors afforded a fine view across the Old Port and the river basin to Habitat 67, and beyond. (The view later that night of the opening night of Montreal’s Fireworks festival was pretty good, too). The InterContinental is a modern hotel built within the historic Nordheimer building, a classic Old Port heritage building. When the ground was broken in 1990 to renovate the building and construct the hotel, several vaults dating back to the mid-18t century were discovered under the floors. Those vaults now house several elegant meeting rooms and banquet halls.
After our hotel tour, we whetted our appetites for dinner with an Absinthe ritual, courtesy of the hotel bar Sarah B. Then, it was on to several tapas selections.
Restaurant Osco! is a Mediterranean-style restaurant, so they specialize in these finger foods and small plates, which the kitchen created from our purchases at the vegetable, meat and fish markets we visited earlier that day. Among the dishes sampled were duck breast with Quebec strawberries, sweet potato gnocchi with giant oyster mushrooms, boudin noir (bloodsausage) with candycane beets, lamb chops with tapenade, and my personal revelation, prawns flambéed in absinthe, Chef Matthieu agreed that this dish was among his favourites from his days cooking for summer crowds in beach towns on the Med, and they were crazy delicious.
As we savoured the main courses, which included a duo of clams with garlic scapes and mussels with curry, followed by arctic char “en papillote”, followed by a light dessert of zabaglione flavoured with Quebec-grown lavender, the contest winners around the round table each took the chance to about their favourites of the day’s surprises – it was agreed that the most enjoyable thing about their “culinary experience” was seeing the behind-the-scenes of the Intercontinental’s operations, especially in the kitchen!
InterContinental Montreal, 360 Saint-Antoine West, Montréal, (514) 847-8525