Montreal’s streets are a mosaic of foodie destinations. A mix of European and North American cuisine decorates menus in every neighbourhood, while dishes are derived from various ethnicities that make up the city. Renowned chefs bring their talent from far and wide, so it’s no wonder Montreal has the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada or that out of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants, 28 were from Quebec and 26 were from Montreal.
Gathering inspiration from this booming food scene is part of why chefs flock here. Over at the Palais des congrès de Montreal, Simon Devost-Dulude, official caterer and executive chef at Capital Catering, loves to integrate local ingredients into the event menus, while thinking about budgets, themes and special requirements.
“Since guests come from all over the world, we try to showcase what Montreal and Quebec have to offer, such as staple items like Montreal smoked meat and maple syrup,” he says. “Guests from some countries aren’t as accustomed to these flavours, so we keep that at the forefront of our work, and we always favour Quebec fresh produce.”
At the same time, the catering team is always looking to see where the market is going in terms of food trends. Within a one mile radius of the convention centre these trends are blossoming in up-and-coming neighbourhoods like Griffintown and tourism staples like Old Montreal.
In the tourist areas of the city there are about 64.9 restaurants per square kilometre, and more than 6,000 restaurants offer close to 80 types of regional and international cuisine.
Sourcing local ingredients for big volume events of 2000 to 3000 people can be a challenge. Big event catering is planned months and years in advance, but more and more, food and beverage details are worked out at the last minute and customers want to be on site to tie up loose ends.
“This means we have to make adjustments with our suppliers in our supply chain or be quicker than ever before,” Chef Simon notes. “It’s an even bigger plus for us to go local and buy what is close because it gives us a quicker reaction time to access produce.”
Having a rooftop garden onsite with yearly harvests also offers proximity and freshness. Part of the Urban Agriculture Lab, which showcases technologies and techniques in urban farming, is the Culti-VERT project. Urban farming technologies make it possible to grow vegetables and fruits that Chef Simon can use in his dishes.
Canada’s first urban rooftop vineyard and world’s first in a northern environment also recently launched at the Palais in 2017. Spanning 2,000 square feet, four indigenous grape varieties were planted in soil with low levels of organic matter mixed with crushed recycled glass. They include Frontenac Black (white wine) and Marquette (red wine).
“Every year the garden expands and new sections open. While it’s not enough yet to fully supply catering, products do come from the rooftop garden,” says Chef Simon. “When I have a lunch event and we pick garden tomatoes on the actual morning, it’s a big plus because of proximity, freshness.”
The peak season of summer could harvest fresh herbs, strawberries, fresh corn and beets, which are all pesticide-free.
“We really care about the food we put on the table, and build close relationships with the gardeners to plan crops for the upcoming year, while looking at set menus,” he says. “Each year we try to diversify what fruits and vegetables we’ll be using.”
Customizing is Key
Because not all event-goers have the same palettes, adaptability and versatility are seared into the service Chef Simon and his brigade bring to corporate event planning.
“The wonderful thing about the food service at the Palais is that even if you can’t find something that works with the menus given to you, the chefs are so willing to work with you to make things happen,” says Dana Zita, president of aNd Logistix and organizer of the Mortgage Professionals Canada Conference and Expo. “Here in Montreal, the chefs go a little further than anyone else in Canada. There are not too many places where you have duck as an option for one of your gala dinners.”
The demand for customization is growing and preferences like veganism and gluten-free is now a reality.
“And we might as well embrace it,” Chef Simon adds. “Instead of putting these guests to the side, we’re preparing custom menus so they can fully enjoy their experience as much as their colleagues. We jump on the bandwagon with customers and go where they want to go.”
Food brings expectations, and expectations always vary. On the creative side, with Montreal being a buffet of new and unique dining options, the food and beverage team at the Palais des congress are always looking to see where the market is going and what customers expect.
As Chef Simon puts together the finishing touches on his menu for 2018, he is juggling other impending conferences and events coming up. For this October, he is customizing a special menu on the theme of Halloween around the world, while another group on that same day requests typical British food.
“We always have to be on our toes to be able to adapt and react,” he says. “On that same day there will be breakfast, lunch and a dinner gala, some buffets, some plated service, so for us it opens up amazing new possibilities to bring food to guests and keeps us away from the routine.”
To learn more about the Palais des congrès de Montreal, visit http://congresmtl.com/en/.