A recent list of the best restaurants in Canada from a website that calls itself "a comprehensive resource and growing online community [...] dedicated to celebrating Canadian destinations" has elicited some typical scrutiny and scorn.
From a Montreal perspective, there was much to celebrate with the launch of Vacay.ca's "Top 50 Restaurants in Canada List™" last week. Twelve restaurants made the cut, the most from any city.
The Vacay.ca judges for the Quebec region were pastry chef Patrice Demers (Patrice Pâtissier), chef Martin Juneau (Pastaga), chef Olivier Perret (Renoir), chef Richard Taitt (Bistro Nolah), chef John Winter Russell and bloggers Dustin Gilman, Mayssam Samaha and Sharman Yarnell. The selection process had judges allocate 100 points to between five and ten restaurants. Chefs were not permitted to nominate their own restaurants and all the judges had to have eaten at the restaurants they voted for between January 1, 2012 and April 29, 2014. Vacay.ca did not pay for meals.
The "best of" business, be it restaurants, songs or cat memes, are natural fodder for controversy. One New York City critic wrote in 2013 that the "World's 50 Best Restaurants list tops my list of World's Worst Anything Lists." And while many chefs and restaurateurs accept such accolades with public humility and grace, they also, in many cases, privately concede that a list of the best fifty restaurants in Canada (or even a list of the most essential restaurants in Montreal) is, well, silly.
Not always privately, however. Vacay.ca's exclusion of Au Pied de Cochon and Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon led Dave McMillan of Joe Beef to tweet: "Where is @CabanePDC? For the sake of brotherly love?"
This is the second time in less than two years that the temples to Quebec gastronomy from Martin Picard have been absent from a list of Canada's best restaurants. The first, in 2012, came courtesy Maclean's columnist Jacob Richler (who also threw Joe Beef some shade). The climax of the subsequent imbroglio was this rant from Anthony Bourdain:
"Omitting Joe Beef AND Au Pied de Cochon from any list of top 50 Canadian restaurants (or even a top ten list) is like writing a history of British rock and roll and willfully neglecting to mention either Beatles or Stones. It speaks of a personal agenda so deranged or corrupted as to throw the entire enterprise into disrepute."
While Vacay.ca has shown Joe Beef the love before (it was the website's top restaurant in Canada in 2013 and currently sits in the top 10), the omission of Au Pied de Cochon and notably Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon - a restaurant that has become a focal point of maniacal culinary pilgrimage - is curious.
"Any list without Au Pied de Cochon and Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon is illegitimate," said McMillan over the weekend. "Martin Picard is one of the most copied chefs in North America over the last fifteen years."
When asked for his thoughts, Toronto chef Grant van Gameren (Bar Isabel) was diplomatic: "I thought it was a pretty solid top 50 list and we here at Isabel are pumped to be included. But I also think Au Pied de Cochon should be on any top list in Canada. It's an institution, and from my experiences, continues to make amazing food and evolve."
Van Gameren went on to add that new establishments, unfairly, often trump older institutions and that "perhaps we have so many great restaurants in Canada that we [need] a top 100."
Derek Dammann, whose restaurant Maison Publique made the top three, just behind Bar Isabel, acknowledged yesterday that Au Pied de Cochon is "iconic" and that "there could be 15 to 20 number one restaurants in Canada."
Judge Martin Juneau of Pastaga, a restaurant that did not make the list, offered this perspective: "Au Pied de Cochon and Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon are led by one of the best chefs in Canada. I respect Martin Picard like crazy. I just feel like people are thinking more about Joe Beef (and co.) lately. Places like Hôtel Herman, Lawrence (not on the list) and Le Vin Papillon represent what most chefs really want to eat right now."
For her part, The Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman thinks that "if Vin Papillon ranks above Joe Beef and Cabane PdC and Park aren't there, WTF?"
Vacay.ca plans to release a statement tomorrow, Wednesday, to address the omissions. The site also wrote this tweet, in response to McMillan's reproof.