A few weeks back, Eater reached out to Quebec’s gambling agency Loto-Québec. We asked why the public corporation declined an invitation for a representative to appear on popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout Le Monde En Parle about Loto-Québec’s controversial new restaurant at the Montreal Casino, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
Loto-Québec didn’t really address the question of why it wouldn’t grant interviews or TV appearances, instead offering a relatively detailed spiel on the value of the Robuchon restaurant. The agency has been rather tight-lipped about the Robuchon drama, often refusing to comment to the media (including the New York Times — although the Times did get chef Éric Gonzales on record).
So in the interests of putting it on the public record, here’s Loto-Québec’s side of the story, via spokesperson Marilyne Desrochers, and arranged under a few themes, with a smattering of commentary.
L’Atelier supports Quebec’s economy and food producers
Loto-Québec states that 86 per cent of purchases and investments made by the restaurant go to Quebec-based suppliers (higher than the 75 per cent average across all of Loto-Québec’s casinos and their various operations). In the lead-up to the restaurant’s opening, Loto-Québec made a public call for bids with an eye to Quebec-based companies — 78 per cent of pre-opening services, products, and investments came from Quebec suppliers, according to the agency.
The company also points out that all staff at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon are from Quebec — Desrochers writes that “it was essential for Mr. Robuchon to showcase both Quebec's savoir-faire in kitchens and Quebec products on the menu.”
It’s no doubt preferable that L’Atelier is using local talent instead of bringing in outsiders — but would another Quebec restaurateur in the Casino have done the same? Probably, but this is obviously a hypothetical situation.
Loto-Québec (and maybe L’Atelier) have ties with educational institutions
It was previously announced (although with few details) that there was some sort of agreement between top culinary school, the ITHQ, and the Casino or Loto-Québec that would benefit students — indeed, students will be able to do placements with the Casino (including L’Atelier) to develop skills.
Loto-Québec also made an agreement with Laval University to create a research group in gastronomical science. In Desrochers’ words, this will allow those involved to envision and support the development of an original Québécois gastronomy.
But it should be noted that these collaborations and agreements are between the institutions and Loto-Québec as a whole — not just L’Atelier. Will many students have the ability to work with high-end equipment at the Robuchon restaurant, or will most be relegated to other Casino restaurants? It’s too early to know.
As for the research union, if you read between the lines, there seems to be a hint that Quebec’s culinary culture will be inherently boosted by some sort of connection with a Robuchon restaurant — which in turn might imply that Quebec’s food scene was in some way inferior or lacking before this. That might be reading too much into it, but it leaves the door open for critics to make that interpretation.
Robuchon is just the franchise owner
One of the more interesting parts of Loto-Québec’s comments is the explicit statement that the company has a franchisee-franchiser relationship with Robuchon (they also note this confidential business agreement is the reason that financial details about the restaurant are not being released).
There seems to be an implicit suggestion that Robuchon is fairly hands-off and the operation is on some level a Quebec thing guided by locals — although Loto-Québec doesn’t make this argument explicitly. It’s true that Robuchon isn’t present, and day-to-day it’s run by Quebecers, but some of his signature dishes are still there, making it not not a fundamentally French, Robuchon-esque operation.
It’s good for the economy
Loto-Québec argues that food-oriented tourism is an important market (noting that it’s one of Tourism Montreal’s current focuses), and in short, L’Atelier will help that.
The restaurant has only been open since late fall, through winter — the quietest time of year for tourists, so it’s hard to assess this claim. But some research to back this up would be handy — Tourism Montreal routinely surveys tourists, but there’s nothing out there to suggest that tourists would (or wouldn’t) come to the city and eat at L’Atelier — especially not whether they would specifically visit for L’Atelier.
People like it
The critics have so far approved of L’Atelier — but a little disappointingly, they haven’t really addressed two key questions: is it worth the money ($200 for the larger tasting menu)? And how does it stack up compared to other Ateliers? It might be good (and at that price, that’s the least one should expect). But if it’s no different to the numerous other Robuchon Ateliers around the world in execution, that’s a lot of money to have spent on something that isn’t unique.
On a side note — Eater learns that some writers and bloggers have eaten at the restaurant free of charge, a practice that tends to sweeten the deal, and the resulting media coverage, so not all the positive press is as impartial as it could be. To be clear, critics at major local outlets like La Presse and the Gazette paid for meals that were reviewed, and it appears to be more out-of-towners or small scale operations that have dined on the house (Eater is working on a full list of these).
How has the Atelier de Joël Robuchon drama unfolded? Follow Eater’s stream of stories covering the restaurant’s inception through to the present day.