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Community Leadership Award 2024

Paul Toussaint

1485 Rue Jeanne-Manc, Montréal, QUE.

When Paul Toussaint was growing up in the port town of Jacmel, in Haiti, the dinner table was always full.

“Every family member had a specialty,” he says. “Someone made stews, someone baked Haitian cake, and someone was on jerk chicken.”

In 1995, his family emigrated to Canada. He stayed behind. His auntie helped him take up the dinner mantle — how to taste, how to season and how to bring every family recipe to life.

But he never intended to make a career out of cooking. When he moved to Canada, in 2007, so he could live closer to his family, Toussaint started out in law school but found that it was not for him. So, he dropped out, signed up instead for culinary studies at Montreal’s LaSalle College and graduated top of his class. He landed at Toqué! — Normand Laprise’s crown jewel — where, working under Charles-Antoine Crête, he quickly rose through the ranks, from intern to chef garde manger to saucier.

Haitians celebrate love, and no one seems to make enough time for that here” Chef Paul Toussaint

Haitian soul has remained a constant in Toussaint’s cooking — which is crucial and poignant, as the country remains in crisis. At Kamúy, his jewel-box Caribbean restaurant in the Quartier des Spectacles, his dishes are designed to feed families and warm the soul. “Haitians celebrate love,” he explains. “And no one seems to make enough time for that here.”

His Haitian flavours are complemented by a mastery of French techniques. Lambi (conch stew) is gratinéed in a shellfish creme. Djondjon, a prized Haitian mushroom, crowns lobster risotto. A whole fish — grilled or fried — is bathed in both Creole-spiced purée and passion-fruit beurre blanc.

He does let Canadian influence creep in. At Time Out Market, where he runs the restaurant counter Americas BBQ and acts as an ambassador to the Montreal outpost, he serves both méchoui (spit-roasted whole Quebec lamb) and Montreal smoked meats. At the National Arts Centre, he expresses the artistry of Haitian cuisine as one of the museum’s chefs-in-residence. And when he heads home to Haiti, Toussaint comes armed with Quebec cheese. “I am Canadian. I will ride for this country just as I would for Haiti.”

–Kate Dingwall

Photography by Dominique Lafond

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