For the past seven years, Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ) graduate Frédéric Michaud has been planning menus, calculating quantities, and managing four chefs to provide 700 meals a day. But his place of work isn’t a fancy restaurant like his former gigs at restaurants like La Colombe on Duluth or Soto in Old Montreal. Michaud is the production and food manager at Acceuil Bonneau, a centre for the homeless and at-risk in Old Montreal.
Now, under Michaud’s guidance, a phalanx of chefs, cooks, and volunteers are rolling up their sleeves to feed those in need while the City of Montreal expands its services for the homeless. Accueil Bonneau will be providing two of the three daily meals for residents of the new Royal Victoria Hospital shelter, which will house the vulnerable people who are awaiting test results for COVID-19, or who have already tested positive.
Once the Royal Vic centre opens, Michaud and his team will be producing meals for their Old Montreal centre, plus breakfast and dinner for those sheltered at the top of the hill.
“The opening of the new space at the Royal Vic means we can’t do it alone,” said Michaud.
Enter Michaud’s ITHQ friends: Charles-Antoine Crête, chef and co-owner of top-rated Montreal Plaza on the St Hubert strip, and Julie Rondeau and Julie Richard of Superbon, a company the duo founded last fall to provide backend food preparation services to high end restaurants.
“In our own circle of restaurants, we always help each other,” Richard says.
“If your neighbour isn’t doing well, then you won’t be, either. We have to support each other, especially now.”
That sentiment is echoed by Crête, who says he feels a duty to use the time that his restaurant is closed to help.
“All year round, people don’t care about the homeless. But I was born at the Royal Vic, so when I heard that Fred needed help, I jumped right in,” Crête told Eater Montreal.
“This is what my mother would want me to do.”
Rondeau and Richard are in a similar situation with a commercial kitchen on their hands, but nobody to cater to. Superbon opened in Rosemont just three months ago, doing kitchen prep like making sauces, transforming onions into confit, and simmering stock for restaurants to use in their dishes. But after March 14, when many Montreal restaurants closed their doors, they realized that they would need to think about a new plan, and signed on to work with Michaud.
Michaud and his team have been working exclusively with donated food to provide a simple breakfast and a hot, sit-down meal in the afternoon for vulnerable folks at Accueil Bonneau. But with the province’s new regulations and physical distancing requirements, there is no longer a sit-down space for clients. Only one meal a day is provided, and the demand is still high.
“Right now there’s always two big sandwiches, fresh vegetables, a drink, and something sweet in that daily meal,” said Michaud. “We don’t turn anyone away, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and it’s free.”
Getting those meals ready requires careful coordination between people with supplies, and people with the bandwidth to prep them. For example, Michaud sent 75 kilos of cabbage and carrots from Acceuil Bonneau’s donations to the two Julies, who transformed these raw materials within hours into coleslaw and carrot salad to include in the lunch boxes.
Over on St-Hubert Street, Crête has also done some repurposing: the indefinitely-closed Montréal Plaza is now a production facility preparing up to 4,000 sandwiches a week, assembly-line style, by cooks and volunteers. But Crête says the pivot was no big deal — he’s just happy to help.
“We’re just mechanics here; it’s easy for us to do this,” Crête says.
“We’re all human beings,” Crête adds. “That’s the message that has to come from all of this.”