The whiz kid, Antonio Park: Spend a night perched on a stool at Park restaurant in Montreal, and you’ll be amazed by the show put on by chef-owner Antonio Park. His omakase menu is deeply creative, incorporating elements of both his Argentinian and Korean upbringing into his cuisine. His highly Instagramable sushi and sashimi platters are already the stuff of legend. Park’s fans include a bevy of hockey players, starting with his BFF, P.K. Subban, who relied solely on Park’s cuisine during playoffs. There’s a definite see-and-be-seen ambiance at Park, but the person you should really be watching is the chef himself, whose dazzling technique is simply awe-inspiring.
The dynamic duo, Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles: Hughes and Smiles are mega stars on the Canadian scene thanks to their Food Network Canada cooking program, Chuck & Danny’s Road Trip. But in their native Montreal, Hughes and Smiles are stars thanks to two superb restaurants: Garde Manger and Le Bremner. Hughes is present at both restaurants and Smiles oversees Le Bremner, but the two restaurants share a distinct gregarious style, where the food is equally delicious and copious, oyster platters rule, and the background tunes couldn’t be groovier. Good luck getting a table at either restaurant, but it’s worth the effort to eat well and soak up the fun scene created by these two dynamic chefs.
The chameleon, Grant van Gameren: Toronto restaurants are on a roll these days and this chef has a lot to do with making the TO food scene rock with seven restaurants on the go. What’s intriguing about van Gameren’s cooking is that while so many chefs are sticking to a certain style, he’s mixing things up with restaurants including a tapas bar, a diner and his two latest, the Tennessee Tavern where the go-to dish is pierogies, and Quetzal, which will specialize in regional Mexican cuisine, with wood-burning ovens, a ceviche bar, and plenty of moles and salsas. You could spend a week in Toronto and eat at a different van Gameren restaurant, and eat differently — and well — each time. Amazing!
The queen of the regions, Colombe St-Pierre: It would be hard to imagine a more bucolic setting for a restaurant than the village of Le Bic in the Lower Saint Lawrence but that is just where Chez Saint-Pierre is located. Its chef/owner, St-Pierre is a woman full of passion for her region, which she exploits fully serving local fish and seafood, farm-raised meats and a cornucopia of sea plants like sea spinach, Scotch lovage, meadow salsify, and a multitude of seaweeds in her dishes. St-Pierre’s fans travel far and wide to get the chance to enjoy her unique cuisine and even better, to chat with this wildly talented chef who serves the most glorious halibut and delicate snow crab you’ve ever tasted.
The wild chef, Jeremy Charles: If Newfoundland cuisine is now considered some of the best in Canada, chef Jeremy Charles has a lot to do with that glowing reputation. A modest and friendly man (and Newfoundland native) whose woodsman look is straight out of central casting, Charles spends much of his spare time hunting and fishing. What’s especially impressive about Charles’ dishes is that he’s cooking in the only province that allows wild meats to be served in restaurants, which means you can enjoy the likes of Arctic hare and grouse on the menu of the elegant Raymonds where he acts as executive chef, or even a wicked moose chili at his elegant downtown St-John’s bistro, The Merchant Tavern. Add plenty of wild foraged plants and mushrooms to the mix and you have a truly distinct and exciting cuisine unique to this superb chef’s home province.
The perfectionist, Guillaume Saint-Pierre: Quebec City is famous for serving French cuisine, be it modern or classical. Yet chef Guillaume Saint-Pierre, chef and co-owner of the Quebec City hotspot Battuto, is cooking Italian. And what Italian food it is! The charcuterie, pastas, and ricotta-stuffed zucchini owers (swoon!) are all outstanding because Saint-Pierre’s cooking is absolutely perfect. From the first sip of a negroni to the melt-in-your-mouth homemade coppa and the crisp-and-tender arancini, you just know you’re in the hands of a master.
The classicist, J.C. Poirier: For years in Vancouver, you’d be dining on pan-Asian cuisine, Indian cuisine, California cuisine and some of the best sushi this side of Japan. But ever since the opening of the new St. Lawrence, French food is glamorous once again thanks to the mad skills of chef J.C. Poirier. A Montreal native, Poirier offers two styles of menu: French or Québécois, which means you can start dinner off with oreilles de crisse (deep-fried strips of smoked pork jowls) and a Labatt 50, or a pâté en croûte with a fine glass of burgundy. Poirier’s dishes show off his beautiful Gallic technique, and the hordes are lapping it up, proving that despite ckle food trends, great French food is here to stay.
Told ya they’re worth it!