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Destination: Parcelles

Even if you haven’t yet dined at chef Dominic Labelle’s Parcelles, on the shore of Lake Memphremagog, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, chances are good that you’ve enjoyed some of the produce he grows there – at least, if you eat at Montreal’s better restaurants.
In the prime of summer, Chef Labelle makes the hour-and-15-minute run to the city for deliveries frequently. On Wednesdays, his busiest day, it’s a 15-stop run.

To start, after crossing the Champlain Bridge, his truck full, he heads for the west end to make a drop at Elena, Ryan Gray, and Emma Cardarelli’s pizza and pasta destination on Notre Dame West. Next stop, that duo’s newest restaurant, Gia Vin & Grill, on rue Lenoir in St-Henri. Then it’s off to Dyan Solomon’s fabulous open-fire cookery trailblazer, Foxy. Working his way slowly uptown, he hits a who’s who of the new and trendy. There’s Réservoir, Le Rouge Gorge, Salle Climatisée, Mon Lapin, J’ai Feng, Boxermans, Alma, and so on, until he finally finishes at the inimitable Montréal Plaza, where he once worked in the kitchen, and now takes a well-deserved break at the bar.

There are basically 15 Wednesdays in a summer, so I try and eat in one of my stops each time, and experience all of them by the end of the summer,” Labelle explains.

Today, though, it’s still spring, and we are headed the opposite way. He has made his last drop at Gia, and we are outward-bound for Austin, and a visit to Parcelles and its greenhouses.

Half an hour up 10E, we pull off at exit 74 for a pickup at l’Ârome des Champs, purveyor of cold-pressed organic sunflower oil, as well as exceptional flours milled from their own organic grains. Labelle uses it exclusively, for the spelt and wheat breads served in winter with vegetable-forward tasting menus, and for the pizza that defines the much bigger outdoor summer operation.

One day he hopes to bring a little of his more polished winter cooking to the casual summer offer, by adding a communal harvest table for shared six-course meals. But between locals, day-trippers from Montreal, and tourists from stateside, this magical lakeside farm-to-table endeavour is so busy it’s not clear that they’ll ever be able to pull it off. “In my most optimistic expectations, we were doing five times less business than what we have now,” Labelle says of his place as we pull up. “I’m very happy about it. But nobody wants to work 60 hours a week anymore. So we’ll see.”

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