For over three decades Paryse Taillefer made a burger that was, by most accounts, the best in Montreal. It was borderline heretical — diced button mushrooms was a standard garniture — but the foundation, meat, bun, was balanced and sound. La Paryse closed in October 2012 (only to make way, shortly thereafter, for new burger champ Uniburger) and was roundly eulogized. Taillefer spoke recently about life in retirement and why she has not touched a burger since.
La Paryse closed over two years ago. Do you reflect much on it now? And do you miss it?
It's hard not to think about it because people still ask me about La Paryse every day. I do miss it but when I think about all the energy and hard work we put in I know that it was the right decision. I don't have that kind of energy anymore. To maintain that standard of quality, and win loyalty from customers and staff, demands a lot. It was my life for 32 years and in my heart I know I gave it everything I had.
When I think of Montreal in the 1980s there was so much effervescence.
You never felt a pull to open another restaurant?
The idea is there but to do it I need people to take it over. Maybe one day we'll do a little La Paryse but I need young people with a lot of energy. When I think of Montreal in the 1980s there was so much effervescence. I feel like it's more difficult now [for restaurants]. But at the same time I think it's improving.
La Paryse wasn't just about burgers. It had a special atmosphere too.
Well a restaurant is like inviting people to your house. My parents had a neighbourhood restaurant and I grew up in the kitchen. I invited friends over to feed them. We were always many around the table. It was about sharing. That's what a good restaurant should be about. At La Paryse it was like that from the start. At the beginning it was for friends, and then friends of friends, et cetera. It was my home. There was good wine — it was all part of the experience. I love people. If you're generous, people will be generous with you. I had loyal employees at La Paryse — some stayed for 30 years, 23 years. It was their home too. All the art on the walls was my personal stuff. If you come to my home now, in fact, it looks like La Paryse. People forget that this industry is not just about an exchange of food for money — it has to be more than that. That's why I rarely go out to restaurants although I do have a few favourite places and appreciate the generosity of some young cooks in the city. Those who take pleasure in doing things the right way. I cook at home all the time. I have friends coming over tonight!
I haven't had a burger since we closed.
You were a vegetarian before you opened La Paryse, correct?
I was a vegetarian, that is true. When my partner Sylvie first approached me with the idea for the restaurant — it was very quick and spur of the moment — she said that if we were going to make fries, because the space had a fryer, we had to make a burger. I used to go to Provincetown [Cape Cod] a lot and there was a veggie burger there that I loved. So I found that idea interesting. But no, Sylvie wanted meat. That evolved into doing burgers with some vegetables. It happened naturally, for pleasure, we just did it for fun at the restaurant. I was doing table d'hôtes with a lot of vegetables too. It was just about simple, good ingredients, good quality. Then the burgers took off and became so popular that they became the focus. I haven't had a burger since we closed.
Burgers were a pretext to make people happy.
What do you think made La Paryse's burgers special?
There was so much love in it. There was un lien d'appartenance. We enjoyed making them. Burgers were a pretext to make people happy. The quality of the meat was good. It's not because you make burgers that you buy cheap stuff. It had to be organic, always. We made them one by one, with fresh meat and the bakery made a special bun just for us. It was a lot of work. I'm not sure I could do it again.
Are you at all curious to try any of the newer burgers on the scene? What about Uniburger, the restaurant that took over from La Paryse?
I haven't tried Uniburger. It was so horrible with the landlord, I can't go back to the space. People tell me that La Boulette makes a burger that reminds them of La Paryse. The idea for the burger starts in another era, un repas vite et complet. If we treat it like fast food, it's not good. In 1980 at La Paryse the idea was to make it with care and with the best quality ingredients possible. The burger was like a drug!