What if, rather than high gastronomy, “fine dining”, people wanted “fun dining” these days? Three years of solitude and austerity have certainly contributed to this great hunger for connection and pleasure. We spoke to some happy hosts.
Two weeks ago, style office WGSN announced to its 638,000 followers on Instagram that the big trend of the moment in “food” is the “experiential” meal, which creates connections and a feeling of celebration. In short, the opposite of the very serious Hawthorn restaurant from The Menu satire, with Ralph Fiennes as tyrannical chef.
This publication, it is Nico Fonseca who made us follow it, even if, for the culinary artist, it is nothing very new. His approach has been part of playfulness since the beginning, whether we are talking about his In the Mouth projects or his culinary bingo, Jenga and tarot.
“When I started doing this, I was a grown-up in town and I found it hard to make new friends. I turned to food. She has such a social side. She also has the power to dissolve people’s nail polish. But I found that the social scenario was too often frozen. People ended up getting weary. »
“So I wanted to shake it up, change the physical posture of the participants and encourage chance encounters and conversations that wouldn’t have happened if everyone stayed at their table,” says the man who orchestrates a host of culinary experiences. unconventional for the 12th edition of C2 Montreal, at the end of May.
In the meantime, you can discover her urban sugar shack at the Culinary Lab of the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT), with chef Émilie Bégin and her team. Nico Fonseca has installed a “chandelier” of branches above a mirrored table. Guests place their plate under one of the four torches to drizzle their cocktail, their buckwheat galette or their sponge cake with maple syrup. Exchanges are thus born between complete strangers.
Clément Boivin chose the “experiential” approach when he left the group Au pied de poche to strike out on his own. He founded Cuisine libre!, a concept of in situ gastronomy, focused on a form of pleasure that is less exclusive, more unifying and good-natured.
“If I go back to the very beginning of my approach to restoration, I would say that the catalyst was my visual arts program at Cégep du Vieux Montréal. We had seen an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art and, afterwards, the teacher had asked the class what the artist was about. No one had an answer! She then explained to us that the works were a response to the art of the past.
“It made me realize how elitist art can be,” the free chief continues. That’s why I decided to go to the kitchen. When it provides pleasure, cooking represents a form of truth. It doesn’t need to be interpreted any more than that. Pleasure has always been the driving force of my creativity. Basically, the idea is for it to be good and delicious. There are chefs who are more into the ideology of fine art. Not me. »
Since the beginnings of Cuisine libre! a year ago, Clément has organized meals where diners had both feet in the water, a mock public market in an alley, street food events, feasts in private outfitters and four-, six-, eight-handed menus with other chefs.
It also happens that a gourmet restaurant with a storefront opts for a relaxed festive atmosphere rather than dressed to the nines. Think of the Montreal Plaza, where platters of oysters have already been accompanied by plastic figurines and where birthday cakes have been delivered by a waiter dressed as a ladybug. If the experience is a little less delirious today, it nevertheless remains very loose.
Wine my rabbit is another temple of pleasure. At the end of an article about the restaurant on rue Saint-Zotique in Tastet.ca, chef Marc-Olivier Frappier exclaims: “It’s not ‘fine dining’, it’s ‘fun dining’. ”! Alex Landry, co-owner, is one of the other happy hosts of Vin Mon Lapin. When we see him approach the table with his arms full of bottles he has chosen with all his sensitivity, to set the tone for the evening, we know that it will be a party.
“I’m very interested in the history of the table. There were times when everything was on the plate. Then there was the reverse, where the focus was everywhere EXCEPT on the plate. We can think of the first supperclubs, for example, where the lights were low, the music loud and the plate rather anecdotal. But there is nothing good in extremes. Today, we seek balance. »
This balance is also in the contract that is established between customers and restaurant workers. Why shouldn’t employees have a little more fun doing their job too?
“For us, in the dining room and in the kitchen, the fun part is finding the perfect rhythm for each table,” explains Alex Landry. In the kitchen, each order form is a new story. Who’s sitting there? Cooks like to know that they are preparing a piece for people rather than a table number. The idea of removing the walls from the kitchens was also a bit like that: to open up to the room, to be less anonymous. »
Nico Fonseca also observes the paradigm shift. “What I find healthy about the shift we’re going through now is that working conditions are starting to be part of the discussion. This experiential twist, this mix of genres, these more narrative environments that allow creation to express itself more freely, young consumers are very open to this. »
That said, no one is reinventing the wheel here. Chef Jean-Michel Leblond, who has also collaborated with Nico Fonseca for In the Mouth, remembers the good years of Tripes
“Everything that was done in Montreal put me to sleep. It was the fashion of the Tartars. It was everywhere ! “, recalls the winner of the first season of Chefs de bois, in 2021. Moreover, Clément Boivin participates in the third season, broadcast since April 11 on the Vrai platform.
Today, Jean-Michel Leblond is the chef of a slightly more classic but no less festive restaurant, since the Kabinet is attached to a nightclub, the Datcha, and offers, among other things, blinis tours, caviar and all their accompaniments.
“There is an interactive side, focused on fun and sharing. It’s a 360 concept where you can arrive at 4 p.m. to have an aperitif, eat, continue drinking, dance. What we restaurateurs are obsessed with is creating the perfect moment for customers. Food and wine is just a percentage of the experience. The customer wants to live a total experience. »