Update, November 26, 2015: Candide is now open.
It's been several months since John Winter Russell announced plans to open his own Montreal restaurant. Now, after a series of interesting pop-ups and collaborations in and around town, the ex-Van Horne chef is ready to talk. Eater reached Russell on the phone last week to discuss Candide.
So where is Candide going to be located?
The restaurant is going to be in Little Burgundy, just north of Notre-Dame, six blocks east of Patrice Pâtissier/Joe Beef. It's in the Salon 1861 project, a church converted into commercial zoning. We're on the backside.
How far along are you with the build?
We're in the thick of renovations, all the demo's pretty much done, except the last little bit. We're starting electrical next week. I'm happy with how it's moving along. We're going to try to open before it snows.
Who are you partnering with?
Danielle [Bitton], who has an event company on the west of the island, S.E.A.L. Productions. In the main hall of the new project, her event company will be doing a lot of the promotion, and using the space. I met her at Van Horne. They're helping with the contacts for construction, equipment, financing, and we're partners 50/50. I'm the one involved in the day-to-day. The concept and the build, that's basically up to me and the team I've put together.
Can you talk a bit about the concept and the menu?
The idea is simple at its base. We're going to have a four course table d'hôte with very few choices, probably a few set entrées, and then a choice for a main, then dessert or cheese, at a fixed price—$40 to $45 per person. As far as actual food, it will be regional, seasonal, with huge amonts of plants, garnished with meat, fish, and so on. Probably 80% plants to 20% meats for starters. Then, for mains, larger pieces of meat and fish roasted with the traditional setup with garnishes, and a few other ingredients.
How about that name, Candide? Where did it come from?
What I wanted was not something that had a food association immediately. I wanted something that meant something in French and English. It means blind optimist in French. I know how silly it is to think you'll open a restaurant and it'll work, just like that. I'm not going to kid myself. But you still have to believe it's going to work. Candid in English is just straightforward, honest. It reflects how we're going to go about it, how the service and food are going to be like.
I've sort of annointed you the king of pop-ups over the last year. How have all these collaborations prepared you to open your own restaurant?
[Chuckles] Yes, some of my friends have had fun with that nickname, so thank you for that. One of the major things I take away from each event is the restriction to work in the environment that you're given. How you react to people around you, how you fit yourself to your surroundings. My reflection on that is building a restaurant is building the environment I want to cook in, and adapting the environment to what I want to do, rather than the other way around. After that, honestly, after getting to work with a huge number of chefs in Montreal, all of a sudden I have a dozen more friends in the city. I didn't have time for that before when I worked at Van Horne, so that's been awesome. To spend time in another person's kitchen, make jokes, laugh, go through service, I'm really, really happy with how the past year has gone. You develop a lot of friendships. Candide took a long time to come to fruition, because of the usual delays; finding a space, zoning, financing. All these pop-ups and special events were a way to ensure I didn't get rusty, and got better. The more I did them, the more I realized it was just to cook for people again and share the love of what we do.