“When we did takeout back in the day, we realized how much waste there was,” Chef Danny Smiles, co-owner of Le Bremner and and runner-up in Top Chef Canada season 3, says. With his new project, Mise en Place (MEP) he wanted to do something less taxing on the environment.
“We buy fresh ingredients, we chop everything ourselves, and there’s no waste. We deliver in electric cars, and all of our packaging is compostable. Even in a global pandemic, this is still a big issue,” Smiles says.
The project was born in March during a FaceTime call with partners Michael Bukacheski, Paulina Di Capua, and Shah Kash, a trio involved in Le Bremner, Bucky Roosters, and The Letter Bet gallery in various combinations. Ever since that call at the beginning of the shutdown, MEP has been delivering restaurant-quality meal prep straight to Montrealers’ kitchens.
Based in a Ville St-Laurent industrial space shared with Smiles by former employer Alex Morselli — his own operation, Phoenix Foods, is in the other half — MEP proposes more than a dozen rotating ready-to-make meals for carnivores and vegans. Featuring flavours ranging from Thai vegetable curries, Genovese pesto, Quebec pork souvlaki, southern-style barbecue ribs, and pancakes, all meal kits come with bilingual instruction videos, so customers can see exactly how it’s done.
Ingredients come from the same suppliers as for Le Bremner and are prepared by Smiles’ team — all colleagues who’ve been displaced by the pandemic. “I’m happy I can employ the staff I’ve been working with for the past seven years,” Smiles says. “We know exactly how everything is supposed to taste, and that makes things easier.”
The connection with his restaurant family extends to the delivery team, former waitstaff who believed in the project. “We take delivery seriously,” explains Smiles. “There’s so much pride in preparing the food that having someone who isn’t involved in the service do the delivery, would feel like the product is getting lost somewhere.”
With Montreal’s second restaurant shutdown, MEP has expanded its offerings with an online Chef’s Market, providing kitchen staples like olive oil, kosher salt, hummus, homemade pasta, and chicken stock. These pantry items are complemented with dishes from local restaurants: carrot cake from Vin Mon Lapin, empanadas from Beba, and Arthurs’ Cobb Salad. “The whole community thing is more important now than ever,” Smiles says.
However, the pièce de résistance may well be Nonna Giovanna’s Sicilian lemon cookies, based on a recipe his mother-in-law had been saving for the chef’s long-planned osteria. Given the circumstances, she agreed to share it ahead of time.