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Lifetime Achievement Award 2019: Normand Laprise - Toqué!

At Toqué! Normand Laprise launched a distinctly Québécois haute cuisine that leaned on solid, old-school techniques, but only selectively, with a view to creating plates that were lighter, brighter, more delicious and a whole lot more imaginative.

A timbale of hand-chopped salmon tartare topped with a layer of mashed avocado, with a pair of taro chips rising from it like wings, fronted by two onion chive antennae.

That might not sound like much now, but in 1990—when Normand Laprise started serving it at Citrus—it spoke very loud and clear indeed.

That dish announced that fresh and local was best (the salmon, not the avocado), that the culinary refinement of fine dining could also be packaged with a sense of fun and—most important, maybe—that its flavour inspirations could be legitimately drawn from Mexico or just about anywhere

At the time, fine dining in Montreal was still emphatically and stubbornly French. A posh night out meant Les Halles or Chez la Mère Michel or maybe Les Mignardises; then, in 1993, Laprise and Christine Lamarche opened Toqué! and the culinary landscape was forever changed. Laprise didn’t serve frozen sole and canned Burgundy snails; instead, Toqué! was playing with Quebec’s own fresh wild fish and seafood, as well as locally grown foie gras, lamb and venison. And his kitchen turned it into something new: a distinctly Québécois haute cuisine that leaned on solid, old-school techniques, but only selectively, with a view to creating plates that were lighter, brighter, more delicious and a whole lot more imaginative. Like all great restaurants, its influence reverberated as much as anything because of the other young chefs who trained there. Frédéric Morin, Martin Picard, Charles-Antoine Crête, Cheryl Johnson, J.C. Poirier, Jeff Finkelstein, Angus An, Dyan Solomon, Jessica Noël—the A-list goes on and on.

Laprise, meanwhile, is far from done: in February, he and Lamarche launched a second Brasserie T!, and in April, the long-awaited Beau Mont will open, and there is still more to come. For what he’s already accomplished, American Express wishes to salute him with its Lifetime Achievement Award for 2019.

At the time, fine dining in Montreal was still emphatically and stubbornly French. A posh night out meant Les Halles or Chez la Mère Michel or maybe Les Mignardises; then, in 1993, Laprise and Christine Lamarche opened Toqué! and the culinary landscape was forever changed. Laprise didn’t serve frozen sole and canned Burgundy snails; instead, Toqué! was playing with Quebec’s own fresh wild fish and seafood, as well as locally grown foie gras, lamb and venison. And his kitchen turned it into something new: a distinctly Québécois haute cuisine that leaned on solid, old-school techniques, but only selectively, with a view to creating plates that were lighter, brighter, more delicious and a whole lot more imaginative. Like all great restaurants, its influence reverberated as much as anything because of the other young chefs who trained there. Frédéric Morin, Martin Picard, Charles-Antoine Crête, Cheryl Johnson, J.C. Poirier, Jeff Finkelstein, Angus An, Dyan Solomon, Jessica Noël—the A-list goes on and on.

Laprise, meanwhile, is far from done: in February, he and Lamarche launched a second Brasserie T!, and in April, the long-awaited Beau Mont will open, and there is still more to come. For what he’s already accomplished, American Express wishes to salute him with its Lifetime Achievement Award for 2019.

Hayley Arnold Of American Express
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