John Winter Russell spoke candidly with Eater Montreal last week about his recent dismissal from Van Horne, the Outremont restaurant popular with critics and diners alike. Now owner Sylvie Lachance shares her side of the story.
What can you tell us about the recent chef shuffle at Van Horne?
Well I want to say first of all that John Winter Russell is a very good chef. But he's very young. When we first interviewed him we were very taken with his vision. He was very confident. His philosophy was different, very rooted in local, seasonal, no waste, almost "terroiriste". [Laughing] But our clients were not ready for it.
So despite some good reviews lately, you made the decision to go in another direction.
Lesley [Chesterman, Gazette critic, who gave Van Horne three stars in September] likes us but she didn't like the food. She came with a friend one night for dinner, on her own, not for the paper, then came back to review us. It's true that the food was way too intellectual. It's difficult to sit down and eat a piece of marinated root vegetable with a piece of mackerel on the side. It's not sexy.
One night Cook It Raw's founder, Alessandro Porcelli, was in the restaurant. He is on the jury of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. John was very nervous. And the dégustation was boring. In five years John will be great. I will write him a glowing recommendation anytime. But that kind of Nordic cuisine is only effective in the right hands.
So what happens now?
Our new cuisinier is like a mini Eloi [Dion, Van Horne's chef de cuisine before John Winter Russell]. His name is Jens Ruoff. He's from Germany and he's worked in some high-end restaurants in Germany and France. He married a Québécoise and came to Montreal. Bouillon Bilk hired him as sous-chef but he wanted to work in a smaller kitchen. He was good from the start and worked with John on some new ideas, some new concepts. I'm very excited for our customers to discover him.
· Van Horne [Official Site]