Jonah Kimmel, the new nighttime chef at Mile End's charming Arts Café, has worked in kitchens in Prince Edward Island, his native Toronto, and, more recently, Melbourne. Now the 32-year-old is acquainting himself with Quebec's bounty of ingredients, and reshaping Arts Café's dinner menu accordingly. Kimmel recently spoke about his culinary background, and offered a glimpse of his vision for the Fairmount avenue restaurant.
How did you wind up at Arts Café?
I was introduced to Arts Café by Brian Peters [former Arts chef, now at Little Italy's Salmigondis], my first week in Montreal last November. I had dropped off my résumé at Salmigondis, but Brian was well-staffed at that point, and passed it on to Arts. Having spent a great year in Melbourne at Transformer Fitzroy [the vanguard vegetarian restaurant run by veteran Melbourne restaurateurs Laki Papadopoulos and Mark Price], I was looking for great people to work with, and an opportunity to make great food. Kyle Croutch was slated to move on and open Diplomate with Aaron Langille, and I really liked the venue. It's fantastic in the daytime, especially in the winter, the way the light pours in, and during the evening it's an awesome setting too. So at the beginning of this year I started to get to know suppliers. It's been about a month now, and I'm really enjoying the process.
What other types of kitchen experiences are you bringing to the new job?
My experience is varied. I went to culinary school in P.E.I. [Culinary Institute of Canada, at Holland College]. I wanted to cook with fish and shellfish, and that led me to John Bil at Ship to Shore. I really enjoyed working with John [now at Toronto's Honest Weight] — just his mentality of doing what you want to do, that if-you-build-it-they-will-come kind of vibe. Then I went to Toronto to work with the Oliver & Bonacini group, and Mark McEwan, before moving on to Melbourne at Transformer. So from a 300-seat fast casual place like Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill to that — it covers a lot of ground.
What's the approach been to changing up Arts Café's dinner menu?
This past month I've been making contact with purveyors like Gaspor Pork, Cerf de Boileau, Provender, and Société-Orignal, just to see the products firsthand. Right now I'm seeing what's available, and figuring out how I want to put it on the plate. It's about offering something interesting for good value; a menu that's different but approachable.
The format is similar to before: bread, soup, four apps, four mains, some desserts. The new menu will have a bit more refinement, more components, and more intricacy. There are limits to the kitchen — we're working with an electric stove — so it will have to be streamlined as we go forward. But thematically, things like dips and crisps, pork and corn, mushrooms — those menu items will stay, but the ingredients will change. I was doing a purée with these beautiful white carrots from Société-Orignal, but those are gone now, so I'll have to find a suitable replacement. Porcelet bavette for the pork and corn could change to riblets, the polenta to tamales, for example. We want to work with seasonality, be nimble with our execution, and offer good quality for the price.
Try Arts Café's new dinner menu from Monday to Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.