What intrigues me most about Montreal as a food city is that people are looking for something to eat literally at all hour of the day. In the morning it's all about the best bagel, lunch perhaps a 45-minute wait for a smoked meat sandwich, 5p.m.-ish brings on the patio and snack brigade, dinner, an array of hot seafood spots, and then a vibrant and lively late night scene which consists of shishtaook and good old fashioned poutine.
What separated Montreal from the other cities on our tour was that we did not have an actual food event to tap into -- instead we decided that Montreal was going to be the city that I did an old school popup at -- just build it and pray to the food gods that someone will hopefully come.
Now I've been to Montreal a number of times, and in my opinion it's one of the most beautiful cities in North America. I've always had such admiration for the city's food scene -- both from the perspective of quality food that chefs are putting out there but even more so how the people of Montreal embrace types of food -- whether it's Tuesday afternoon or Friday night, restaurants are busy and people are embracing food at all hours of the day.
Literally when we got to Montreal they were in the midst of transitioning from their food truck pilot project to full-blown food truck system in the city. All people were talking about was that food trucks were now a Montreal thing. What was interesting about the by-laws was that one stipulation for having a truck was that you had to own a restaurant as well. If you think about it this is actually quite smart -- restaurants already had such an immense following so transitioning that following to the streets could just be that much easier and it ensured that all trucks had a commissary of sorts to work out of. In my honest opinion a smarter business approach to ensuring a sustainable first wave of trucks.
All that said, Montreal seemed like the perfect opportunity to recreate day 1 of Fidel Gastro's but in a new city. I didn't know anyone, all I had was a secured venue thanks to the amazing owners of Prato Pizzeria, and somehow I had to tap into this underground emerging street food scene and get people to come eat some fries that weren't traditional poutine. On paper this sounded crazy but I was pumped to take on the task. I wanted to know that street-food and the fg brand could work organically in a city that wasn't just Toronto and this was the perfect test.
So I started promoting; tweeting at all the Montreal food and party bloggers, then I met with all the trucks of Montreal and put posters on their trucks and then quite boldly started handing out flyers like I was promoting a New year's eve club night. At this point I tried everything and I was becoming legit nervous. Here I am, Toronto boy in Montreal, my french is so-so at best and I'm doing a full-blown twist on traditional poutine. The reality at this point is that I'm in Montreal and not one single person might show up to this thing.
The venue was Prato Pizzeria owned by the lovely Rosa. Check one: we had a venue. I decided to cook something very Montreal at the popup; variations of different fry dishes that weren't poutine. One of the dishes I made was Montreal deli fries, inspired by Shwartz Deli (more on them later) and the other margherita pizza fries inspired by the venue. Check two: we had a menu.
I was nervous, anxious and ready. Everything was set up and you could actually see the line-up at the door starting. I couldn't believe it. And then shit hit the fan. The table-top deep fryer that I had rented not only kept tripping the power but it kept setting off the power in the restaurant. The DJ kept losing power, the washroom lights kept turning off.... this was becoming a disaster right in front of my eyes. The absolute worst case scenario was happening... people showed up and I likely hood of canceling the event was pretty high because without a deep fryer there was no food.
As we tried to figure out how to plug in the fryer about 1000 different ways we also had a lineup at my table literally just looking at me waiting to be fed. So what to do in a situation like this. Well one of our crew started taking fries over to Schwartz' and explained the situation. They actually let him fry the fries in batches at Schwartz' which was just next door and he brought them back to the popup so I could sauce them and serve them. We did about 4 trips until we finally got the power sorted out. People waited, ate and partied. Somehow it worked.
The Montreal food scene really showed there true colours that night. Not only did the people come to support an unknown in the Montreal food scene, but it wouldn't have been possible to execute had it not been for the help of the trucks and restaurants that made it possible. The Montreal street-food scene let me in for just one night.... and I will never forget it -- Je me souviens.
For more on my adventures in Montreal, check out this week's episode of Rebel Without a Kitchen on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on the Travel and Escape Channel