But the 39-year-old, who reigns over the sweet part of the kitchen at Montreal’s posh Toqué!, fell in love with the profession while travelling and working in various restaurants in Europe, including London’s Vanilla Black and now three-Michelin-starred Frantzén in Stockholm.He says the latter, helmed by chef Björn Frantzén and then pastry chef Daniel Lindeberg, is the institution that has most influenced his work.
At Toqué! he prepares very complicated dishes with many contrasting flavours and elaborate presentations, sometimes mimicking little landscapes or flirting with trompe l’oeil—like the white chocolate, buffalo milk ricotta, sea buckthorn gel, caramelized cocoa nibs and black truffle ice cream creation that evokes a broken egg on a breakfast plate. His signature dish is a dark chocolate pudding with honey, buckwheat, chamomile and the plant melilot. Mongraw does not hesitate to work with long lists of ingredients to create his complex dishes. For example, a goat milk Bavarian cream is paired with blueberry gel, long pepper dacquoise, cilantro meringue, tarragon, almond powder, lemon balm syrup and sorbet, plus shiso and chrysanthemum cress, to create a dessert evoking a forest scene.
While esthetically his desserts are less minimalist than the work of other Montreal pastry masters, such as Masami Waki and Patrice Demers, his flavour combinations reflect the modern cuisine of Nordic countries. Think black garlic ganache or juniper Chantilly. But he believes that in his kitchen, there’s a fine line past which creativity loses its purpose. “The pastry chefs I look up to often have two or three times the number of people we have working in the pastry section to do fewer covers with a smaller menu,” he wrote on Instagram while he was testing some Christmas recipes. “Sometimes chefs like to puff their chests and take a ‘whatever it takes’ posture…but burnout is real. Often, doing good work is about saying ‘no’ to the bad ideas just as much as coming up with good ones.” — MARIE- CLAUDE LORTIE