Montreal High Lights Festival : Chef Melissa Craig brings her west coast wisdom to Chez L'Épicier restaurant
The Montreal High Lights Festival invites the world's top chefs to Montreal to partner with local gourmands. This year's focus is on female chefs, with over fifty coming to the festival from all corners of the globe. NIGHTLIFE spoke with the award-winning B.C. chef Melissa Craig about running the kitchen at Whistler's Bearfoot Bistro, as well as her upcoming visit to Montreal. I caught her at the end of the hectic holiday season – a record-breaking Christmas and New Year at the Bistro. Despite a nasty bronchitis, she expressed excitement about the festival and the chance to meet festival curator Anne-Sophie Pic: “I went on an eating tour for En Route magazine, and we went to all these top restaurants, but I was the only one on the tour who couldn't go to her restaurant, because I got sick!”
Travelling inflects the flair Craig brings to her work – on that same eating tour, she visited other three-Michelin-starred restaurants, notably Chef Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Chef Ferran Adria’s El Bulli. Both are masters of molecular gastronomy – experimental cooking that uses scientific devices to enhance culinary experiences. These new tools produce foods like beetroot foam, vacuum chocolate soufflé and frozen whisky sour candy. “Travelling and seeing and eating it really piqued my interest [in molecular gastronomy], so I came home and started finding ways to incorporate it in my cooking.”
Her 2008 visit to China for the Beijing Olympics “was an eye-opener. It's the oldest cuisine in the world, and it's amazing how they combine flavours.” Craig has been working professionally for thirteen years, and she's seen a big change in the last five years for women chefs. “It's starting to be a normal thing. At the beginning, I did have a few problems with staff, but these days it doesn't really faze anyone.”
As for the festival, she plans to bring many of her own ingredients from British Columbia – Craig attended culinary school on Vancouver Island, where she was “raised with the mentality” of the 100 Mile Diet. While the menu isn't set in stone, she plans to bring albacore tuna, black cod and a local B.C. venison. With the aforementioned passion for molecular gastronomy, Craig will be preparing frozen pearls of umeboshi plum for the tuna and a foie gras powder.
Festival's Finest Tables: East Coast Boy Meets West Coast Girl Chefs Melissa Craig (Bearfoot Bistro) and Laurent Godbout (Chez l'Épicier)
February 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Chez L'Épicier | 311, St-Paul E.