How to incorporate local culinary experiences into Montréal events
One of the great pleasures of travel is the opportunity to sample new foods. Today’s traveller searches for concrete learning experiences, and accessible gastronomy play an increasingly prominent factor in selecting a destination — both for leisure travellers and meeting planners.
A city’s culinary reputation is increasingly important to conference attendees, and the cuisine of the conference or event is a determinant of its success. Ironically, due to the full agendas of most events, attendees don’t always have time to sample local cuisine. To address this conundrum, meeting professionals are finding clever ways to incorporate the culinary arts into onsite programming.
MONTRÉAL: NORTH AMERICA’S FOOD CAPITAL?
Last year food critic Alan Richman made a bold statement. He said that Montréal is the New Food Capital of North America. A few weeks later, GQ Magazine published an article with an unflinching title: This City Is Food Heaven. Whether or not we’re the best in North America is, of course, up for debate. But one thing is certainly true: the locals have an unshakable love affair with food. In 2015, Montréal had 340 inhabitants for each restaurant — that’s more restaurants per capita than New York City. Restaurants across the city are affordable, and we eat out often.
THE CLASSICS: POUTINE, SMOKED MEAT AND BAGELS
Montréal offers a wide variety of quality food. Before delving into the more contemporary culinary options, it’s important to quickly address Montréal’s mainstays, the traditional carbohydrate trifecta: poutine, smoked meat and bagels. Perhaps the most emblematic dish of the region, poutine is a medley of deep-fried potatoes, cheese curds and gravy was invented to fuel the lumberjacks and farmers of yesteryear. The patented Montréal-style smoked meat is kosher, made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. Most people begin their carnivorous hunt at Schwartz’s Delicatessen, which has been serving its original recipe of spices since 1928. In contrast to the doughy New York bagel, the Montréal bagel is thinner, sweeter and denser, and boiled in honey water before being baked in a wood-fire oven. To sample, order from Fairmont or St. Viateur bakeries.
Now, let’s move beyond the basics!
THE FRESHER SIDE OF MONTRÉAL
The most forward-thinking Montréal chefs are pairing international styles with locally-produced ingredients. Just south of the city, an area called the Eastern Townships acts as a breadbasket for millions of people. The harvest starts in springtime with asparagus and fiddleheads, continues with summer strawberries and heirloom tomatoes, and heads into the autumn months with a variety of squashes and apples. The bounty is, of course, not limited to the aforementioned products. Québec offers hundreds — potentially thousands — of fruit and vegetable varietals. Additionally, locally-raised meats and fish are available throughout the year, and, when it comes to award-winning cheeses, Québec punches above its weight.
How does this bounty translate to the local restaurant scene? We’re glad you asked. One of Montréal’s original farm-to-fork restaurants, Toqué, was ranked as the #1 restaurant in Canada (canadas100best.com) in 2016. Here you’ll discover seared foie gras in pear water, lamb tartare with melon sorbet, or duck with camomile. A stone’s throw from Jean-Talon Market, La Récolte abides by a “strictly local and seasonal” mantra, offering such treasures as mozzarella di buffala with roti and minced eggplant marinated in oil and apple cider vinegar. Among a plethora of microbreweries and regional wineries, you (and your attendees) could sample Montréal-produced beverages such as Rise kombucha or 1642 Cola.
PUTTING FOOD IN THE PROGRAM
Savvy event professionals are incorporating experiential education activities. From down-to-earth microbreweries to Michelin-starred bistros to backyard yard gardens, planners can partner with local providers to access exclusive corners of Montréal — or to bring an experience directly to an event. At C2 Montréal, for example, attendees were able to participate in a group cake baking session called Cake-Lab. Gastronomic experiences are limited only to the imagination, and could include culinary workshops, garden visits, live kitchen shows, guided market tours, or mixology sessions.
The key element is great storytelling. Why did the chef choose to base a career around food? How did the restaurant start? Where do the ingredients come from? How does a dish reflect a destination? We’re here to help you connect with the people to tell great stories.
When you’re ready, reach out!