If they had tried, it likely would have been a losing battle.
Dine at Charles-Antoine Crête’s Montréal Plaza today and the first thing you will glean is that his kitchen is having an unusual amount of fun. Where else these days can you go for a lamb sundae, or a plate of cured ham decorated with little plastic Smurfs, or a brochette of venison liver and tongue with pineapple, all dressed for the opera in truffle and gold leaf?
The usual trouble with such flights of whimsy and extreme creativity is that unchecked, they are just mistakes—an envelope pushed too far, right over the cliff. Instead, here, the food communicates in texture and flavour a joyful exuberance. Have a bite and it doesn’t hum—it sings. The fact is that there is some amazingly disciplined cooking going on behind the veneer of good fun.
Which is not surprising, given that its architects were both groomed by long experience working for Normand Laprise. And yes, that is supposed to read “architects,” not “architect.” Because while Crête makes most of the noise, and is the public face of the place, ask him yourself and you’ll learn that the food is very much a collaboration with his co-chef and business partner, Cheryl Johnson.
Usually, I come up with the weird idea, But if I had the best idea in the world I still couldn’t make it happen without her. She’s an amazing technician, the one who can make the dish standard, so we can make it the same way, make it right 50 times in a night, and make people happy.
As he puts it, he’s the creative director, who can roam the dining room or, if he’d prefer, just work on some fish in the back of the dining room. She’s the executive producer, on the pass, making it happen, and happen right. And for that we give our 2017 Most Innovative Chef not to a single chef, but to an inseparable pair of them who work as one: Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson.
PHOTOS BY CARLOS GUERRA