Camaraderie within the chef community has become a big deal. The scaling down of what "fine dining" has come to mean and social media have loosened things up, and made kitchen folk more accessible, mainly to one another. Even though men and woman have nearly equalized behind the stoves, the climate in most kitchens maintains a decidedly masculine atmosphere, and "bro-dom" applies across the board. If another chef respects what you are doing, you're in. If you go into your buddy's restaurant and you are slipped some wild duck he shot and killed himself that has been hanging in a root cellar getting a nice "hum" on it for a couple of weeks, you know you've got a friend. Never mind what the riffraff think, if your fellow chef is down with your game, it's all good. That golden circle of secret culinary magic and love is a pretty good place from there. Sharing and caring amongst big burly people with knives is a beautiful thing.
I experienced this firsthand last week. Not only the bro love between two extremely large and talented beasts, but another thing which seems to be a big deal with chefs: The "passing of the torch" from one generation to the next. Or as someone pointed out in this case, the passing of the severed pig's head.
I ran into Chef Matthew (Matty) Matheson--the self-taught 30-year-old savant boasting an impressive CV that includes Toronto restaurants La Palette, punk-meets-high-end-design Experiment, now defunct Oddfellows, and current reign at Parts in Labour--at an Odd Future after-party (we literally crashed into each other). It came up that I was going to be interviewing Martin Picard. "That guy's fucking rad as fuck!" Matty said. "I'll do anything for Martin!" And before I knew it I had basically set up possibly the best interview scenario of all time. The next day, on a phone call to Matty, neither one of us fully remembering all the details of our conversation--which may or may not have included maple syrup body shots--it was agreed that Picard, his entourage of PR people, and me were graciously invited to Parts and Labour for our own private lunch. Damn. It feels good to be a gangsta.
I have to concur, I would also probably do anything for Martin Picard. Chef, hunter, gatherer, he is the God behind Pied du Cochon, the Montreal bistro famous for, among other things, its section on the menu dedicated to foie gras. As the name suggests (translated as "To the Foot of the Pig"), the philosophy of the restaurant embodies ideals first made popular by the likes of Fergus Henderson and Anthony Bourdain, namely "nose-to-tail eating," which is to make use, in the most delicious respectful way, of every part of the animal including brains, balls, and bones.
The menu is an homage to Quebecois tradition, as well as pork and duck fat (same dif), and has done an excellent job of promoting this gastronomical capital to the rest of the world, and even to Canada itself. Cabane à Sucre (Sugar Shack) which is a real, running maple sugar bush and seasonal restaurant, is next-level to this idea. Picard's newest and most awesome endeavor has "spiritually transformed" the traditional sugar shack. In Canada, when the maple sap starts to flow, usually in March, everyone drives out to the forest to eat mountains of mediocre pancakes that really only serve as vehicles for oceans of delicious maple syrup and butter, served to you in pitchers on huge, long, family-style tables. It's a little PG but fun. At Martin's Sugar Shack, you get down to the business of what you really want to do with all that maple syrup, which is drench every goddamn thing in sight with it and have a big old sexy fun party in the woods.
For the launch of his new book, Cabane à Sucre, he had a massive jam of hedonistic fatty fun that included several suckling pigs slow-roasted over maplewood and injected with maple syrup brine, stuffed with Cretons, bread, onions, and blood pudding. Not to mention a secret room housing a girl in a beaver skin bra in a bathtub full of maple syrup, handing out maple rum shots. The book itself demonstrates this sentiment beautifully in its 300-plus pages of recipes, photographs, short stories, and documentation of a year in the life of a sugar shack, all very liberally doused in Canada's own liquid gold.
The mish-mash of material, from staged photographs of Picard-style wet t-shirt contests (replace water with maple syrup), party snapshots of staff, biological explanations of how the nectar makes it onto your pork belly-topped pancakes, to how to trap and prepare Canadian goose or beaver stuffed with its own tail illustrates the kind of mind and life of this great lumberjack of Canadian haute cuisine.
Arriving at lunch with my friend Jeremy, and toting a flask of maple syrup in my purse (just in case I was able to coax the body shot thing), I was greeted by a beaming Matty. Listen to this love: Not only was our lunch to include a mountain of house-made charcuterie including ox tongue and snail terrine, head cheese, pigs ear, pork shoulder rillettes, and chicken liver parfait; a stack of forearm-size beef bones split down the center and filled with their own marrow topped with onion jam, bacon, and chickweed from their rooftop garden; all kinds of clay pots filled with homemade chutneys, pickles, mustards and pepperettes; and the most perfectly cooked eggs I've ever had. The thing that really showed me how much it meant to Matty to meet one of his mentors was the brisket he cooked overnight, but that required him to run back and forth from his apartment across from the restaurant every three hours to check on it. So cute! As well as delicious.
Martin arrived with several ladies in tow, PR people who were taxiing him from one interview to the next on this crazy promotional book tour, and who were actually really awesome (one exclaiming, "…salad is for pussies!") which sounded a little awkward coming from a pantsuit with a perfectly penciled-in mouth, but was cool nonetheless). Our table soon filled with this crazy spread, and Matty joined us for a good old chat through broken French and bottles of wine.
Martin Picard [to Matty]:When I see guys like you, I know I can die.
VICE: Do you see yourself in other people? I don't see that much people. When I do I only go see my friends at three or four places. There was so much to do with the shack. I am not much of a farmer. I realize if you want to be a farmer you have to stay on your land every day. But I know what I want. I know I want the black pig to fuck the red pig, and I want to eat that.
[Speaking to the waiter] Do you have any of that nice chardonnay, the Norman Hardy? I fell in love with this chardonnay. I love that one. I met the guy and he sent me an email. He's crazy, no?
I know Norman, his winery is down the street from my dad's farm. My dad is Jamie Kennedy. So how is it to be the daughter of a chef?
It's awesome. Still? Fuck, I am wondering what my daughter and my son will be like. You have a different education.
I feel like you and a lot of different creative people end up having their hands in lots of different things, and when I heard about the Sugar Shack I felt like that was such a beautiful compounding of ideas relating to your philosophy of life and incorporating it with your work as a chef. When you are doing it you don't really realize what happens, and you are just doing it and it feels right.
You must feel so happy, having free reign over all this maple syrup. Fucking hell, the first time that I buy the tractor, one year before it is even happening, then one year after I am driving a tractor.
Right, cool. Matty Matheson: [On Twitter] I'm like, hey chef what's up man, your food is so sick, trying not to be a total dweeb, but I'm like, hey bro, you following me what's up? it's awesome.And then all of a sudden I'm talking to some of these chefs who are like fucking so sick and I'm like that's fucking sick that's fucking sick, what are you doing like how are you doing this? It just closes the gap. It's got to the point where you can talk directly to them.And it's crazy to talk to some of these chefs. It makes it awesome for younger chefs. Like seeing Daniel Boulud up at Sugar Shack, and Dave posting photos play-by-play.
I was reading how maple syrup is one of the most fastest growing sexual fetishes. Martin: Fetish?
PR Lady: Like kinky KINK. Like sexy, people think it's sexy.
Matty: Like what turns you on, like ughhhhh ughhh…
Martin: Ah yeah? Maple syrup. Like purple nerpple…
Yeah, they were talking about Canadian blow jobs and whatnot. Martin: Canadian Blow jobs?
Like you put it on the cock… I'm going to stop doing food. I am going to start a massage parlor.
Matty: Imagine having a massage parlor where it's just all big guys, like big bros and its just like grrrr. And hot women come from California, the most sexy women, and its just all of us in the woods massaging. That's good.
Do you feel like internationally you are really well-known? Martin: I don't know about the people, but I know the cooks are acknowledging me. I know the first book went very well in the underground cooking world. That is something I am very proud about, and after that it is just business. I was very proud because we are editing and distributing it, and so you knew exactly where you are sending. It's a very good sensation.
I was thinking you and your book are such an expression of Canadian Quebecois gastronomy. There seems to be this thing with Canada where we are afraid to push our own stars, or have strong ideas and opinions. "The prophet is never recognized by his people." Do you feel that for yourself? I think it is like that for everything. It is a business. Me, I am doing everything. I don't think people should push me. I am just doing my business.
I was very frustrated for a long time because I found if you go to France or anything else these big restaurants have the support of the government or the city, they not only give money but they are proud. I was very mad to everybody for too long but at the same time maybe it helped me to continue to grow. I didn't understand, but today it's like fuck everybody, I'll do my thing. And if I'm right, I'm right, and if I am wrong, I'm wrong, but in the end I owe nothing to nobody. And I am in peace.
In your book, there is this mix of pictures, documentation, short stories, diary entries, little tidbits, etc. It creates a really nice constellation that gives a good sense what you do and who you are and what you are trying to represent. When you go through a book like this you will feel something personal. Debbie [a PR lady] was showing me this article about ghostwriters who are doing cookbooks. Nowadays chefs don't even know what they wrote. They put your picture on the front and it is just about money. And food is selling very well these days, so probably these guys are right to do it until some people get tired about that things. Because it is coming to be almost anything now. For that I am very proud of my book. Maybe it is not what they expect but it is what we are.
It is real. What I love here is that you have that artistic energy because you see that a lot of people are here working for the same goal. So that is what we did when we start the book. Usually you do a book and you put some objective, you do a track. You have ten chapters, each chapter ten page or whatever, and after that you never go away from that plan. You always follow the track. But us, we're not editors, we don't know anything about it. It was just sitting all over a table having a brainstorm and the day after, the week after, you decide to change. So in the end, all the energy is in the book. If we had bad energy the book will be bad. If we build something, the more we advance, the book becomes something else.
It's nice that you watch it grow into something collective, everything moving towards the same idea, and it's not even necessarily all related with food. It brings in other elements that contribute to setting a tone or psychic landscape of what is necessary for you to achieve your goals with food as a part of a specific vision, and also a part of a bigger picture. Yeah, there is also the fact that nobody had any experience with writing a book. You can imagine very easily that I am not a writer. We decided to be more creative to make sure we are making something that looks like what we are.
From the way you approach things, you can see your food has a lot of heart. [To Matty] Did you listen to Lionel Richie when you were younger?
Matty: Um no, I was into a lot of metal when I was younger. My parents always listened to Black Sabbath. I never heard the Beatles until I was in my twenties.
What do you listen to? Martin: I try to promote the Quebec music. There's a lot of music I love. I know what I don't love. I don't like punk or metal, when I listen to it I get headache. And the worst of the worst and I want to puke.
Were you a badass? In a different way, maybe. No tattoo and everything, but I had my time.
Your book is very sexy. There is something about your whole style--it's sort of deviant and visceral and elusive. Meat, sauce, sheen fat, I think people are drawn to it. Yeah, I can understand. I feel very sexy.