As if the critical acclaim of their first restaurant, Le Fantôme, wasn’t enough, Kabir Kapoor and chef Jason Morris wowed Montreal’s food scene yet again in 2018 with the opening of Pastel.
Recognized for the flair and complexity of their dishes, the duo of owners and their highly-skilled team (which includes chefs de cuisine Daiki Wajima and Louie Deligianis and sommelier Renée Deschenes) took home Eater Montreal’s Restaurant of the Year award in December.
Even before Pastel opened in Old Montreal in June 2018, Morris and Kapoor applied an obsessive level of craftsmanship to the design and creation of the space, a light and airy counterpart to the dark and brooding Le Fantôme (their first restaurant). Tasked with the challenge of gutting and redesigning what was previously a Java U café, the pair involved in themselves with every step of the construction process, from designing the kitchen to prepping the furniture.
“It gave me a chance to learn how to pour concrete, it gave me a chance to do some plastering, to do some electrical work,” Morris says. “It was important for me that everyone that was in the project at that time spent time in the space, whether it be doing demo, whether it be putting up or building banquettes, making tables, making chairs, assembling things, it’s important to get everyone involved as early as possible.”
What resulted was brightly lit, welcoming room. Inside Pastel, soft pink chairs complement exposed brick walls, an industrial-looking open ventilation system, as well as an open kitchen, fully visible from the dining room.
Morris says the level of involvement he and his team had in constructing Pastel gave them a greater sense of ownership over the space. And they apply the same principle to their cooking. Morris says he owes the success of their nine-course seasonal tasting menu (which he aims to tweak between six and 12 times per year, depending on both ingredient availability and his mood), to the painstaking attention he pays to finite details.
While aesthetically, Morris prefers simplicity in his dishes, the layers of preparation and the level of technique that go into every meal are incredibly complex. Dishes like a deconstructed take on s’mores, or a checkerboard of jalapeno jelly with goat cheese typically don’t use a copious number of ingredients, but rather, fewer elements treated with the utmost care.
Morris aims to cook with the highest quality ingredients: He has fish flown in from five different purveyors several times per week, and receives hand-picked pluot plums from the Canada’s west coast. He uses state-of-the-art Japanese charcoal in his kitchen, and perhaps most notably, doesn’t shy away from time consuming processes like canning and storing preserves and brining quail and pork for days on end before serving them.
“We love cooking so much, that we’ll go out of our way to do the extra long task,” Morris said. “We put so much work into it. It’s just care, we care about what we do so much and we put so much time. Some of us are there before noon every day and we don’t leave until one o’clock in the morning. It’s a little bit of an obsession.”
He hopes to convey the work and detail that goes into his food to his diners not only through their open-concept kitchen, but also through cultivating personal connections with his clients. In fact, he says that on several occasions, he’s written down recipes from his menu by hand and given them to patrons upon request, hoping that the enthusiasm his team feels for their work will become “contagious.”
“We work so hard and so long, and it’s not to get any result in particular, other than for you to feel how strongly we have worked on your behalf, almost. In a way, I just want people to feel how passionate we are about working in this industry.”
Despite their immediate success upon opening, Morris hopes to continue improving Pastel as it inches toward its one year anniversary this summer. The team routinely examines their Google and OpenTable reviews to pinpoint and address their flaws. And they’re not afraid to make changes to perfect the restaurant: They’ve cut back on their hours, eliminating lunch service, to focus on providing the best service possible. They’ve upped their bar service and cocktail list, and, as of the start of 2019, are showing it off through during a regular 5 à 7.
By perfecting the small details that go into running a great restaurant, Morris hopes to achieve acclaim beyond Montreal.
“All these little micro projects that are slowly starting to take form, and hopefully are going to propel us [...] The cooks and the waiters, everyone that works with us, they take so much pride in getting these small wins,” Morris said.
“I mean there’s no hiding it, we’re aiming for international.”