In fact, I have a reputation as something of a glutton. One of the principal joys of my day-to-day life is the anticipation of my next meal. On occasion, I actually find myself counting down the minutes until I can justify my next feed (three hours isn’t quite long enough, but four? Off to the fridge...). (My feats at the dinner table are often viewed with some combination of awe and disgust), and the truth is that my primary reason for working out at the gym is a desire to be able to eat to my heart’s content.
I am not proud of this.
There are myriad reasons to condemn this behaviour, foremost among them the fact that it is entirely unsustainable and inequitable. It is also unhealthy, although that is the least of my concerns. The other major problem with the way that I eat is the fact that I am a completely unreformed carnivore. I live to eat flesh. When I fantasize about my next meal, it is the meat I am thinking about first and foremost. I can't imagine giving it up, though I believe that the only moral choice is to do so. Between the environmental and ethical repercussions of the meat industry (for humans and animals alike) there is no justification for the consumption of meat. And yet, as I write this, my mind skips ahead to the fried chicken I plan to eat tonight (prepared by The Stockyards in Toronto—it's to die for).
And then, by chance, my partner and I stumbled upon a television chef who captured my imagination: Chuck Hughes. Chuck was born and raised in Montreal and currently runs two restaurants there. His show is called “Chuck’s Day Off” and the premise is that Chuck loves cooking so much that he even likes to cook for those who help make his restaurant hum (staff, suppliers, etc.) on his days off.
It's not, I’m sure, for everyone (or maybe it is, but I can’t speak to Chuck's reception amongst gastronomical sophisticates). Chuck is, however, the perfect chef for someone like me, who imagines that the best way to improve a dish is by adding prosciutto and/or sending on a journey through the deep fryer.
Chagrined, I accepted a spot on the waiting list and booked us a seat at the bar of Chuck’s newer restaurant Le Bremner (a quieter and less rowdy version of Garde-Manger also situated in Old Montreal). Fortuitously, late Saturday afternoon, I received a call to say that a spot at Garde-Manger had opened up; we would have the classic Chuck experience after all.
The reviews of Garde-Manger, as food reviews tend to be, range towards the snooty. It was once a brilliant restaurant, they say. Then Chuck became famous and tourists began to arrive. Prices rose and what was once cool now only pretended. This is the hipster way.
I was not to be put off. Cool or not, Chuck was my culinary soul mate and I was determined to consummate our relationship.
What I want to do is describe perhaps the most gratifying meal of my life.
We started with drinks. Jen had a classic gin martini (dirty, because she loves olives) and I had a giant Caesar (see above video), replete with a giant stalk of celery and crab claw I proceeded to mash and mangle as I greedily slurped out the flesh within.
At this point, Jen pleaded for me to stop. There was no doubt we had been more than sufficiently sated. But I found I could not resist the call of Chuck's famed deep fried Mars bar for dessert. Jen relented and the Mars bar arrived with ice cream on the side.
(My prose is purpling, but I can’t help it. How to do justice in print to something that can only be appreciated on the palate?!)
All I can say is this: thank you, Chuck. I have never had a more satisfying (or expensive, I must acknowledge) meal. If you are a carnivorous glutton like me and you happen to have an evening out in Montreal, plan ahead and treat yourself to Garde-Manger.
May Chuck never take more than a day off.