The news practically slipped through unnoticed. But there it was, stealthily referenced in an article in The Globe and Mail three weeks ago.
Dammann and I, who are writing a cookbook together, have come to England not just to hang out with Oliver, but to gauge the temperature of London's best gastropubs.Dammann, of course, is Derek Dammann, the Victoria transplant who first made waves in Montreal with DNA, the soigné showcase for his particular take on nose-to-tail gastronomy. Despite universal raves, however, the locale never quite felt in step with Dammann's style. That was starkly apparent a year ago when Dammann opened Maison Publique. The corner gastropub is on trend but completely at one with Dammann's identity as a chef - unstuffy and mellow but with sober emphasis on technique and quality ingredients.
The "I" is Chris Johns, the author of the Globe piece. A well-travelled food writer, Johns also teaches a course on Food Writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. And "Oliver" is none other than Jamie Oliver, Dammann's old boss at Fifteen in London and a partner in Maison Publique.
Although the cookbook is in the early stages, Dammann took some time to answer a few questions about the new venture.
It seems like the casual hint in The Globe and Mail the other day was the first public reference to the cookbook. Is that so?
Yes. We thought, why not slip it in there and see what happens?
So why Chris Johns?
Because Chris is just awesome. He's an intelligent writer with a sense of humour. I wanted to find someone to collaborate with on the book and Jamie Oliver's PR rep in the U.S. recommended some people. Chris was on the list and I remembered that he'd reviewed DNA years ago. He really got what we were doing. Obviously he had positive things to say about the restaurant but more than that, I just really liked his writing. We eventually met and hit if off. We've since travelled to Scotland together and the rest of the UK. He's just a lot of fun to hang around with. And if I'm going to be working so closely with someone on a project like this, I'd better enjoy their company. Chris and I are a lot alike.
Can you share some specifics about the book?
Well we want to keep some of it in under wraps for now but the book is basically a 50/50 collaborative effort between me and Chris. We're sharing the workload. The focus will be on Canadian food. We'll have stories and recipes; 120 recipes or so. I have a soft spot in my heart for the West Coast. I'm from there so the book will definitely reflect that.
How will Maison Publique fit into the book?
We haven't figure that out yet. At this point we have more than a skeleton but less than a body.
What kind of recipes will the book feature?
I'm not sure how elaborate we'll get with the recipes at this point. It's incredible how involved some people get - there's a woman who blogged her experience cooking every recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook. And people are doing that with the Alinea book, The Fat Duck book. I worked at The Fat Duck and it took us four days to make some things. I don't know how they have the time. We'll see how technical we get with the recipes.
When will the book come out?
We'll hand the book in next summer, in June. From there it'll be about a year until it's published. So 2015.
On any pressure to compete with the spate of quality cookbooks to come out of Montreal over the last five years.
I don't see it as pressure; it's an individual thing. The books that have come out - Joe Beef, the Au Pied de Cochon books, Toqué! - they're all masterpieces. The Toqué book was twenty years in the making. We can't compare with that. Martin Picard's books are unreal. And the Joe Beef book - it's just a masterpiece. There's no cookbook like it. And they were all bestsellers.
On the food scene in Montreal and Quebec.
Quebec - and Canada - are in a good place right now. We may not always realise it but Quebec is seen as important outside of the province. Just look at Alex [Cruz, Dammann's former partner at DNA] at Société-Orignal. People in New York are losing their minds over some of the products they're seeing from him. Eric Ripert has a standing order of three cases of Volte-Face sunflower oil a week for Le Bernardin.
Finally, does the book have a name?
Yes but I'm not telling what it is. Everyone will have to just wait and see.
· Jamie Oliver's London: On the ultimate pub crawl of the chef's favourite spots [The Globe and Mail]
· Jamie Oliver partners with Canadian chef Derek Dammann for new Montreal restaurant [National Post]
· The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts [Amazon]
· Au Pied de Cochon: The Album [Amazon]
· Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon [Amazon]
· Toqué!: Creators of a New Quebec Gastronomy [Amazon]
· Chris Johns [Official Site]
· Maison Publique [Official Site]