Fresh off the blockbuster news that Éric Gonzalez will depart L'Auberge St-Gabriel mid-April for a stake in Les Enfants Terribles and a role as executive chef, we spoke separately with Gonzalez and Les Enfants Terribles owner Francine Brûlé.
How did this partnership with Éric Gonzalez come to pass?
We kind of knew each other from Les Enfants Terribles. Six years ago he was involved with putting the kitchen together. He was wonderful but at the time we couldn't afford a talent of his caliber. Then recently we overheard that he was looking for a new challenge. We got together and shared our visions for the future. After a few conversations we felt excited that we could work together. We felt that he could do for Les Enfants Terribles what Daniel Boulud has done with DBGB in New York. We have two restaurants at the moment [Outremont and Nuns' Island], with plans for more. Éric will bring freshness to the concept in his role as executive chef and kitchen director.
Did you see Lesley Chesterman's tweet after the announcement?
Of course I saw it.
Do you think she has a point? Does this move say anything profound or significant about haute cuisine in Montreal and the proliferation of bistros in the city?
I knew some people would have this reaction but they should ask Éric why he wanted this for himself. And keep in mind, our partnership goes beyond Les Enfants Terribles. We have plans. He was honoured as a Maître Cuisinier de France recently and his talent is unbelievable. He calls me with ideas all the time - for the mac and cheese, for the lemon pie - his contributions will not be ordinary. There are many ways to do comfort food.
But it is true that haute cuisine is a tough sell in Montreal. We are not New York. Look at Normand Laprise with Toqué! and Brasserie T!. These chefs have to think about their futures, their lives. We have a different scene in Montreal.
We have a plan that will allow Éric to express himself and have fun and think of his future. We think it's exciting to offer a talent like that to so many people. And nobody can blame him at 45 for looking out for his future. We'll give him the authority to excel. He's the king of the kitchen at Les Enfants Terribles now.
Can you give us some insight into the partnership terms?
[Silence] No I don't think so.
But being a stakeholder must have attracted him?
Of course. We want to expand but we don't want to compromise on quality and talent. Éric will be a major part of that. When you grow you sometimes fall into that trap - we don't want that. Unless you have someone very good and strong the individual chefs will do what they want. You need a strong leader like Éric.
What is the immediate plan?
As soon as he sets foot here on April 28 and feels comfortable, we will start expanding. The next five years will provide us with a lot of fun challenges.
How soon will we see menu changes at Les Enfants Terribles?
In a month we'll add one after plate another, slowly at first because they do take time to develop and try them out. By fall you should see completely new Éric Gonzalez menus at the restaurants.
We wish you all the best with your new executive chef.
Thank you. It's very exciting and I think over time the skeptics will become believers.
Éric Gonzalez, talk us through your decision to leave L'Auberge St-Gabriel for Les Enfants Terribles.
I can see how for some it came as a surprise but it was not that way for me. Chefs need to evolve. We have hopes for our careers. Over more than four years at L'Auberge we did some beautiful things but you have to find the right moment and the right people to work with in order to grow. After more than four years and 80 hours a week, week in and week out, that opportunity did not present itself. I was at a crossroads. And it was not a decision that I took lightly. It took five months of deliberation.
Does this say anything about our ability to support fine dining in Montreal?
Well there are good reasons and obvious reasons why chefs open brasseries and bistros. But when you're a chef and you're talented you can succeed and be creative at every level. When you cook well with passion, it can be anywhere. I won't change just because the restaurants are different. Les Enfants Terribles will still be Les Enfants Terribles but with my signature. You have to take the news with a lot of joy and optimism. I think down the road everyone will see that.
I've been in this city for almost 15 years and I truly consider myself Québécois now, not French. And it amazes me how much talent we have here. But we all have a part to play to let that talent shine. Because when it comes to restaurants we have what it takes to compete with the best.
What are your plans for Les Enfants Terribles?
To maintain the spirit of Les Enfants Terribles, for one. But I will add my touch to make it more sexy, inviting, surprising and convivial.
What are your thoughts on the word "bistronomie?"
Bistronomie started because some chefs with Michelin stars realized they had to democratize their cuisine to make it more accessible to the people. But it's not just because you have a rotisserie that you're doing bistronomie. At the end of the day you have to prove you can handle even the most simple ingredients with care and creativity.
What will your last few weeks at L'Auberge be like? Do you depart on good terms? You say your decision took five months. Did you try to negotiate better terms with the owners?
I will just say that I'm friendly with Marc [Bolay, L'Auberge St-Gabriel partner]. They understood the decision. Marc and everyone understands I have a career path I have to follow and that this is normal for a chef. If I only wanted to be a chef de cuisine for the rest of my life, I would've stayed. But this is a logical career step.
When I joined L'Auberge, it had a certain reputation as a tourist trap. Today that's no longer the case. I like to think that me and my team had something to do with that. I hope that when they [management] take the time to reflect on the last four years they see that as well.