The ambitious, experimental restaurant that gave Verdun menus laden with offal, fish heads, and cocktails, and encouraged patrons to abandon all mobile devices, will hold its last service on Sunday, May 1. Tripes & Caviar, which began as a pop-up food club in 2009 by bartender-turned-chef John Mike, a.k.a. Jean-Michel Leblond, made the surprise announcement on Facebook today. “We secretly hoped to operate on Wellington for a period of three years, which we did,” the statement explained, translated. “We all learned a lot, met some amazing people, served customers who have become more than family, and for these reasons, we thank you. This new wind of change will simply allow us to reflect on why we started the adventure of Tripes & Caviar seven years ago.” In conclusion, Leblond reassured “that this is not a failure. Rather, we leave with heads high and full hearts, full of touching memories.”
While so many restaurants toil in obscurity, Tripes & Caviar, and specifically Leblond, exhibited a tireless knack for showmanship and self-promotion. Suckling pigs have been displayed with lit sparklers, like birthday cakes, salmon sperm has been churned into ice cream, and food has been plated Jackson Pollock style — sometimes on nude human subjects. In recent years, beyond the confines of his Verdun restaurant, the theatrical Leblond has collaborated with a filmmaker on an interactive art project, modelled fedoras, and starred in a rowdy episode of the Vice Munchies show 'Chef's Night Out'.
Leblond also managed to run a restaurant that, admittedly, may not have resonated with all of Verdun's denizens, but did cultivate significant buzz. Critical plaudits too; as recently as this month, in fact, when Lesley Chesterman prefaced a mostly positive write-up with a caveat about the restaurant's offal fear factor: “[F]ear of being served something I can’t bear the thought of putting in my mouth. We’re talking seal brains, pig rectums, veal penises and lamb lungs, and let’s throw some live insects in there for good measure.” And yet, the critic admitted, “Any old restaurant can serve you red wine and steak/frites.”
On the eve of Tripes & Caviar's first anniversary, Leblond remarked, almost prophetically, that after the success of his pop-up events, a restaurant was the worst-case scenario. “Even to this day I'm wondering why the fuck I did it. I understood the hours. I grew up in the restaurant business and I knew what it was all about. So I was like, never. Never. Forget about it. There's not enough money in it. So that's why I started Tripes & Caviar — to do the [food club] events. I understood that and I was good at it. Creating a vibe and a moment. We love it and we're super good at it. That's exactly what we're trying to do now, here in the restaurant. Yeah, it's a restaurant — we have opening hours and closing hours but at the same time, the way that we do it, the way we perform in front of the clients, it's a performance, it's actually like a show.” After three years, the show's over for now. But Montreal has probably not heard the last from Tripes & Caviar, nor from Jean-Michel Leblond.