Expert Interview Series: The Montreal Food Divas About French Canadian Cuisine and the Joy of Reviewing Restaurants

The Montreal Food Divas have been frequenting Montreal restaurants on Thursdays since November 2011. We managed to catch up with the Divas to hear about French Canadian cuisine, their criteria for evaluating restaurants, and what kinds of fun and...

French Canadian cuisine

The Montreal Food Divas have been frequenting Montreal restaurants on Thursdays since November 2011. We managed to catch up with the Divas to hear about French Canadian cuisine, their criteria for evaluating restaurants, and what kinds of fun and havoc they experience on a weekly basis.

Tell us the story behind Montreal Food Divas. Why did you decide to start a blog?

Starting in November 2011, we kept going out after work on Thursdays. After a while, everyone kept asking us for restaurant recommendations, and we always had such great stories and interesting experiences. It seemed natural that we would start blogging about those restaurants, so our darling friend from Montreal Brunch helped set us up and taught us the ropes.

Since there are significant differences between the French and French Canadians, are there also differences between French cuisine prepared and served in Montreal and that found in France?

Huge differences! There is classic French cuisine that you can see at L'Express and Toqué in Montreal, but then there is what we would call French Canadian cuisine that you would see at Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef. The classic undertones are there. You'll see tartare on their menus as well as duck and foie gras; but they're prepared and served with flair and are more innovative, fresh, and new. Canadian French cuisine seems to be constantly evolving.

What kind of "non-French" cuisine is popular in Montreal restaurants and eateries?

That's easy: everything. There are so many restaurants and so many different ethnicities that every cuisine is popular in Montreal. Diners can enjoy Italian (anywhere from a classic Neapolitan pizzeria to a bakery or café to fine Italian dining), Greek (at a souvlaki spot or home-cooked traditional style to fine Greek dining), dim sum, Japanese (from ramen to izakayas to sushi), Spanish tapas, Mexican, or Middle Eastern food (from shish taouk and falafel wraps to fine Middle Eastern dining). Everything is popular in Montreal because we have so many immigrants bringing the flavors of their homes here! That's what makes this city so special.

Given how the divas tend to reward superior restaurants with ratings of "Always on Thursdays" and "Splendid," what types of things tend to result in unfavorable ratings of "Meh!" and "Never on Thursdays?"

Honestly, we don't give those reviews often; and we only give a "bad" review if we're 100% sure. Because restaurants are often understaffed, crazy busy, or left without some ingredients that didn't come in, we don't like to be harsh critics.

That being said, if the whole meal was deplorable, the risotto is almost raw, the pasta is mush, the meat is burnt, etc. then we tend to be harsher because the chef saw that plate leave his/her kitchen. Also, the waiter brought it to us.

The service can be a little slow on a busy day, too, but we need to feel like you put some love into what's coming out of your kitchen and bar. We aren't picky, but we can tell when a chef or restaurant owner cares about his/her restaurant.

Since your site admits that the Montreal Food Divas are known for "causing trouble," could you share with us an example or incident which illustrates this tendency?

No comment! However, we've been known for some excessive drinking and loud disorderly conduct - all in the name of fun and never to the detriment of the restaurant. Things just get out of hand sometimes...

OK, how about sharing a recipe that is always a hit with the divas' friends?

Diva #1's Southern Mac n' Cheese always gets a lot of love from her friends. P'tit Frère swears that it is her signature dish; it's named after him because he loves it so much. Don't be shy about using bacon fat, this recipe isn't for calorie counting conscious people. It's all about that dirty good taste!

Ingredients:

• 5 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked

• 5 cups milk

• 8 sprigs fresh thyme

• 6 garlic cloves, chopped finely

• ¼ cup butter

• 3 tbsp all-purpose flour (maybe more)

• 8 cups grated white cheddar, yellow cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheeses

• 2 large white onions, diced

• Pack of bacon, diced (yes, an entire pack)

• Paprika

• Bajan Hot Pepper Sauce (always the brand "Delish")

• Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook macaroni until al dente.

2. Preheat oven to 400° F.

3. Heat a sauté pan, cook bacon, and render the fat until the bacon is crispy.

4. Add white onion, garlic, and the leaves from sprigs of thyme. Season with pepper and put aside when cooked.

5. Warm milk in a saucepan.

6. Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat and whisk in flour ( more than 3 Tbs may be needed to make a roux). Cook for 1 min.

7. Add the warmed milk to the roux, whisking vigorously until smooth and slightly thickened.

8. Stir in 5 cups of cheese and continue to cook and watch thicken.

9. Add salt, pepper, paprika, and Bajan Hot Pepper Sauce (always the brand "Delish") to taste.

10. Remove from heat and add macaroni; stir until fully coated.

11. Pour in the entire bacon / rendered fat / onion mixture and stir

12. Pour the contents of the large pot into a casserole dish (the size of a large lasagna pan) and sprinkle the leftover cheese (3 cups) until fully covered.

13. Bake for 20 minutes until golden; let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

When cooking in the kitchen, what tools, utensils, or items are of the utmost importance to Montreal Food Divas?

We're not really into gadgets; we're ethnic, so we use the basics and make-do. Everything can be made with the simplest gadgets; people just like to make things "easier." They don't use that many fancy kitchen gadgets in a restaurant's kitchen. They just use an industrial mixer, blender, and other things that have been around for years.

That being said, our espresso machine is of utmost importance. It's the gadget machine that we would replace immediately if it broke. It makes us more pleasant, and the food tastes better when we are caffeinated!

If a mysterious benefactor were to buy a gift for the Montreal Food Divas' kitchen(s) and money were no object, what would be your first choice?

We want a jet that says Montreal Food Divas with our logo, and we would park it (since we can't afford the fuel) and use it as our headquarters. We've been jokingly saying this for years; but alas, no mysterious benefactor has surfaced.

All jokes aside, Diva #1 would kill for a red gas range and stove; it's on her dream list! Diva #2 would love to have a wine cellar!

Need a good espresso machine? Check out our selection today!