Bethlehem XXX, the experimental Little Italy restaurant cum performance art piece conceived in 2013 by Brett Stabler, has quietly done its own thing while being both part of the Montreal restaurant scene and completely removed from it in every way imaginable. This anti-restaurant restaurant has been warmly embraced by Montrealers and, despite everything that could have possibly derailed the fever dream, has received numerous national and international write-ups, shocking no one more than Stabler himself. "It’s pretty crazy," recalls Stabler. "I knew absolutely nothing about food."
Stabler partnered with musician and chef Beaver Sheppard to get Bethlehem off the ground and took on what most restaurants would see as a total fucking nightmare: serving a different cuisine every week. Bethlehem’s kaleidoscope of cultural and conceptual mash-ups has included menus ranging from 'The failed colonization of Africa by Italy' to the more migrant fusion of 'Leb/Mex.' "Changing the menu every week was absolute insanity," admits Stabler. "It was amateurism at its most flippant. Our plan was just to get through it really, and then the chaos just became us."
Over the winter months Bethlehem has revisited the best of their 2013 menu (entitled 'Immigrant Utopia: The refusal of Mastery') and recently welcomed another guest chef pop-up after the success of a previous collaboration with Chak Wow Thai master Jesse Mulder. With its final throwdown this Sunday and Monday night, chef Alex Ragoussis (formerly of Au Pied de Cochon) is paying homage to Montreal chefs and the recipes that inspired him. Dishes like 'PDC's Dick-in-a-Can' and 'Joe Beef and Oysters on the radio' pay respect in typical off-the-wall fashion.
"I figured, I can’t take it that seriously, so why not just have fun," explains Ragoussis. "If you want people to come, why not name drop? And guess what? It’s worked really well." For those wondering what’s next for Bethlehem, Stabler says they plan on following up the 2013 best-of menu with one from 2014. And what was that year’s theme? 'Impossible Rainbow: The Caliphate.'