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Quebec Politicians Keep On Bickering About Joël Robuchon’s Expensive Montreal Restaurant

Montreal + Robuchon = London and New York, apparently

Finance Minister Carlos Leitão defends Joël Robuchon’s Montréal restaurant
Assemblée Nationale du Québec

Another day, another defence of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the multimillionnaire French chef’s new restaurant in the Montreal Casino.

As part of a publicly run casino, the restaurant was put together by Loto-Québec, the government corporation dealing with gambling. Last week, Quebec’s finance minister Carlos Leitão suggested the pricetag was around $11 million dollars — that came from Loto-Québec’s budget, which is public money.

On Tuesday in Quebec’s parliament, the National Assembly, the Parti Québécois (PQ) — the province’s main opposition party — grilled Leitão over the Robuchon restaurant again, with Leitão dismissing criticism and missing the point.

The PQ’s sport and recreation critic Sylvain Pagé kicked it off, saying that last week’s comments from Leitão about why Robuchon was offered the casino restaurant over a local chef received unanimously negative reactions. Pagé suggests that Leitão insulted Quebec-based chefs, before going on to invoke Town and Country magazine’s effusive praise for Montreal’s culinary scene from 2016.

Leitão would have none of it, saying that the agreement between Loto-Québec and Robuchon is excellent for Quebec’s culinary scene and Montrealers in general. Apparently ignoring the fact that Montreal is a significantly smaller city, Leitão says the Robuchon restaurant will put the city’s reputation on par with New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo.

Leitão did reveal one possible positive to the Robuchon restaurant, noting that courtesy of an agreement with the casino, students Quebec’s main culinary school (the ITHQ) will have some sort of access to Robuchon. Exactly what that means is anybody’s guess — the ITHQ is almost certainly not going to have Robuchon on speed dial, given that he hasn’t been in the city since the December opening of L’Atelier. As a general rule, Robuchon spends only short periods of each year at each of his restaurants around the globe.

Notably, Leitão backtracked on the $11 million pricetag for the restaurant that he put forward last week, saying he wouldn’t discuss specific numbers.

Pagé also pressed Leitão for details of Robuchon’s contract with the casino, saying “we have a right to know”. Leitão mostly dodged the question, saying that Loto-Québec is a commercial entity and has the right to keep that information confidential. It mostly seems like a convenient excuse for Leitão — it is true that Loto-Québec, as a corporation, is relatively independent from government departments like the finance ministry. However, Leitão appears to be using that independence as an excuse to cover his ears and eyes, and act like the government has no business knowing what Loto-Québec, a government-owned entity, is doing, saying that the government has no business interfering with the everyday management of a government corporation.

Later on, the second opposition party, the more right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec jumped on board, with finance critic Francois Bonnardel demanding similar details to Pagé.

Leitão doubled down on his “Robuchon is an awesome rockstar!” rhetoric, pointing out that Tourism Montreal (also a government agency) and some in the food industry welcomed Robuchon, offering nothing that previous promotional videos haven’t already put forward.

It all wrapped up with Leitão sarcastically asking Bonnardel what his problem is, dude. “That a globally-renowned chef is promoting Quebec’s culinary scene overseas? If that’s the problem, bring it on!”

A quick scan of Robuchon’s social media pages reveals no such promotion, except for a Facebook mention of L’Atelier’s opening. Maybe he’s too busy opening yet another outlet of the same restaurant that also hopes to draw tourists to a city just a few hours away.

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