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Meet Les Lauriers, Quebec’s New ‘Oscars For The Food World’

Coming this April

Les Lauriers/Supplied

Quebec is getting a brand new prize to honour the province’s best chefs, sommeliers, producers and beyond — Les Lauriers is the name, and its first award ceremony is on the way this April.

At present, there’s no all-encompassing food awards for Quebec — and Les Lauriers’ executive director Christine Plante tells Eater that she and her team felt it was time that the industry’s best players were given some recognition.

“We as a collective feeling more and more that gastronomy is a cultural field, it’s based on creativity, artistry, techniques. There’s lots of common points with the arts, and we have this bustling industry [the awards are aimed at] positioning gastronomy as one of our cultural richesses.”

Les Lauriers will hand out awards across 15 categories (and possibly one or more honorary Lauriers outside those categories) — the prizes range from restaurant, chef, and pastry chef of the year, to awards for service, bartending or mixology, culinary events, and food trucks.

Plante highlights that in choosing categories, her team wanted to make room for artisans and producers too, and not just the people at the end of the line who serve excellent meals or drinks.

“We want it to cover the whole chain — awards in gastronomy are most often focused on chefs and restaurants, and I feel like we should celebrate the whole industry, like they do for music or cinema [awards]. It’s like how it’s time to say bravo to the guy who does the music, or the editing.”

In one respect, Les Lauriers closely resemble America’s James Beard Awards (although not quite as expansive), covering similar ground in terms of chefs and restaurants. But Plante says that while the Beard awards are chosen by small committees, Les Lauriers will use a format similar to the Academy Awards (for film), where a large number of voters with industry experience can weigh in. There will be a 500-person brigade of voters, selected with to represent all parts of Quebec, with an eye to diversity — the Lauriers are tightly restricting the number of voters who can come from one business or one restaurant group, and are aiming for gender parity amongst voters, as well as to have a range of cultural groups represented.

Nominations for the awards are open right now, and anyone can enter (the form is right over here) — Plante notes that she wanted to avoid putting up any barriers, such as application fees or membership in an organization.

“We don’t want to not give an award because someone is not a member of ‘the club’, and we don’t want to put financial pressure on restaurants.”

When nominations close later in February, they’ll be vetted for eligibility, then the brigade will vote. But the brigade vote will be counterbalanced with a much smaller jury, whose vote will count for 50 percent — this way, the awards can’t end up being simply a popularity contest amongst the brigade.

Members of the jury won’t be eligible for any Lauriers, and will remain anonymous. That’s so they can visit the nominees, assess them first-hand, and then discuss with the other jury members to reach a more definitive decision.

“The other reason is that food is physical and it’s not like music where you can send an email,” notes Plante.

The award system was put together by a committee from across the food world separate to the jury, aiming to be as fair as possible — critic Marie-Claude Lortie, chef Marc-André Jetté, Quebec Street Food Association founder and restaurant owner Gaelle Cerf, and officials from Tourisme Montréal and the ITHQ, to name a few. The committee also outlined criteria for each award — in short, it’s about quality, but Plante notes that there are some other stipulations — credit might be given to a chef who is respectful, or who has a focus on sustainable or ocal products.

“The best chef is someone who is respectful with his employees, that is creative, it even goes as far as respect for the environment, so not only is the food good, but it’s brought up in a good way...if there’s a chef that’s a target of the #metoo movement, he’s probably not going to win.”

So who’s funding it? Much of Les Lauriers is supported by Quebec government grants, along with a number of private sponsors, but Plante notes that there’s a “brick wall” between sponsors and the voting.

Nominations for the first Lauriers are open from now until February 23 — nominees will be announced March 12, with the first awards gala (covering the 2017 calendar year) to happen April 16.

Disclosure: Tim Forster is a member of the Lauriers brigade.