Good food is everywhere.
A lot of writing about culture and food is based on conflict. Conflict shapes character and makes for great narrative, but it may not be the best way to think about what we’re achieving in Canada and beyond. It’s not about Toronto versus Montreal, the U.S. versus Canada, or hip urban innovation and attitude versus traditional values and classic, hard-earned polish. Rather, it’s about how so many different kinds of people working in different areas and different contexts are achieving real excellence. My recent trip to Langdon Hall made me see this more clearly than ever.
Montrealers don’t know Langdon Hall so much, but Torontonians do. It’s an elegant getaway spot on a beautiful lay of land in Cambridge, Ontario. People from Toronto and surrounding areas come here for special occasions, or simply to recharge and enjoy tasteful luxury and relaxation.
Acclaimed chef and man-who-famously- disappeared-for-a-while Jonathan Gushue put Langdon Hall on the map, and our guest Jason Bangerter has brought it even farther up the Best 100 Restaurants in Canada list. Langdon Hall is surrounded by gardens that Jason routinely patrols for ideas and ingredients.
This year, his close relationship with the surrounding land got him named Best Farm to Table Chef in Canada.
Langdon Hall is just one of the many “regional” restaurants, away from the main urban centers, that have made Best Restaurants list. It’s part of a larger trend across North America. While other chefs and restaurateurs in Montreal, Toronto, New York and beyond deal with the tough realities of working in our cities, people like Jason Bangerter and Norman Hardie (another guest of ours) are creating excellence closer to the land.
At the heart of it, any perceived dichotomy between city and country is false anyway. Chefs like Normand Laprise and Dave MacMillan develop and nurture relationships with farmers and others that allow them to bring the best ingredients to the table. Those relationships help keep many small farmers and food producers in business. It’s a virtuous cycle that we as consumers keep going every time we pay a bill.
And, yes, restaurant and culinary styles vary wildly. The innovating, rock stars chefs of today couldn’t have been imagined not too long ago. But it doesn’t mean that traditions are being ignored. Rather, innovators learn from tradition, and traditionalists who rise to the challenge learn how to improve their game. Speak to enough chefs, and you realize that, whatever they’re doing and how they’re doing it, they have a lot of admiration and affection for others in their metier.
Like they say, it’s all good, and we as consumers benefit.
The takeaway from all this? It’s cool to leave your comfort-zone, and go out and explore what’s out there. The way things are going, there’s a good chance you’ll discover something beautiful – and come away with a feeling that it might be doing less violence to reality to reveal harmony than it is to concentrate on conflict.
WHAT WE LEARNED AT C2 MONTREAL 2017
At the invitation of the event’s organizers, our podcast was part of the live, immersive spectacle at C2 2017. Now in its sixth year, C2 is an international business innovation conference that brings together Creativity and Commerce in an atmosphere that is distinctly Montreal. C2 was founded by Cirque du Soleil and imagined world-class creative agency Sid Lee, and it shows.
We were there to talk about food – particularly what trends and changes are currently affecting the business, and how other entrepreneurs can learn from the industry’s reaction. There are few people who represent the meeting of creativity and commerce better than our friends in the food business. They create fantastic, immersive experiences every day, not just once a year.
Our interviews took place live in The Aquarium, a glass enclosure set in the middle of the action.
DAY 1, May 24
Tony sat down with Lenny Lighter of Moishes, Emma Cardarelli of Nora Gray, and Antonio Park of Restaurant Park and Lavanderia (among others!) Lenny is respected as a dean of the Canadian food scene. Moishes will be 80 years old in 2018 – a feat in any business, not least the demanding and volatile world of restaurants. Both Emma and Antonio have been in the business for around 15 years, and both have emerged with beloved restaurants in a time when the culture wants chefs out of the kitchen and up front mingling with customers, turning chefs into rock stars.
Inside the Aquarium
The 40-minute conversation ranged over many topics, including the high degree of collaboration between restaurateurs versus other industries. We also discussed how restaurateurs have a particularly close connection with their clients – they see and interact with them on a daily basis. We believe this feet-on-the-ground reality gives them up-to-the-minute insight into the needs and moods of their customers that is rare in other businesses, where the gap between CEOs and end-users can be wide indeed (and, we suggest, can be an important barrier to creativity and innovation.)
Tony Babinski, Lenny Lighter, Antonio Park and Emma Cardarelli
DAY 2, May 25
Our second day at C2 featured an interview with food writers representing different stages in the evolution of food writing. Marie-Claude Lortie writes for La Presse, Montreal’s largest-circulation daily newspaper (which recently made a successful shift to online distribution only.) Elise Tastet, at 26, has created TASTET, a food site that has attracted 1.2 million followers. And Ian Harrison, after fostering the creation of the first Eater.com site in Canada, has gone one to become Associate Editor at Ricardo magazine as it moves into the English-speaking market.
Marie-Claude Lortie, Élise Tastet and Ian Harrison
If you want a lively discussion, put four writers are around a table. The conversation ranged over changing consumer tastes, the evolution of the food business from restaurants to the new meal kit companies making inroads everywhere, to the evolving role of the media and writers in covering the food scene. What emerged from this conversation was, again, a sense of a high degree of friendly collaboration and shared opinions (with healthy disagreement blended in, of course.)
DAY 3, May 26
Eataly is defined as “the largest Italian marketplace in the world, comprising a variety of restaurants, food and beverage counters, bakery, retail items and a cooking school.” It was started in Italy by Nicola’s father Oscar Farinetti, founder of the Italian electronics chain UniEuro. There are currently Eataly locations around the world, and the business is growing rapidly.
We spoke with Nicola about the importance of creating compelling experiences with great products at a time when traditional retail faces tremendous pressure. We also spoke about the importance of collaboration (that word again.) When Eataly opens in a new location, they seek first to work with leading lights in those plaes (such as Mario Batali in New York City) – a great way to ensure quality, and a thorough understanding of specific, local needs.
Nicola, like so many successful entrepreneurs, was easy-going and friendly.
We hope that some of you reading this watched us live on Youtube. We’d love to hear from you.
Audio from these interviews (and maybe video, a Grilled first) should soon be available for streaming.
Our thanks to C2 for the experience.
MOISHES’ GRILLED PODCAST WILL BE LIVE AT C2 MONTREAL 2017.
Guests to discuss current state of the restaurant and food industries
May 12, 2017
The Grilled podcast by Moishes will host three live episodes at this year’s C2 Montreal conference. The podcasts will be broadcast live on Youtube and on Facebook live, and across C2s social media channels.
C2 Montreal, an international conference on commerce and creativity, has been called “a conference unlike any other” by the Harvard Business Review. Created by Montreal-based creative powerhouses Cirque du Soleil and Sid Lee, C2 brings together leading thinkers in commerce and creativity to explore trends, opportunities, disruptions and major shifts on the horizon.
“Our podcast has provided a tremendous opportunity for us and for people who love the restaurant business to learn more about the people in and around it,” says Moishes Lenny Lighter. “After almost 80 years in business, we’re more interested in ever in innovation and the latest challenges facing our industry and industry in general. We’re glad to be at the heart of this at this event.”
Grilled will host three podcasts in The Aquarium, a live, on-site broadcast center.
Wednesday, May 24:
From 14h to 15h, Grilled will welcome Moishes Lenny Lighter, Nora Gray’s Emma Cardarelli and Antonio Park of Restaurant Park to discuss the current state of the food and restaurant businesses, and what other industries can learn from them.
Thursday, May 25:
From 14h to 15h, Grilled by Moishes will welcome Marie Claude Lortie from La Presse, Elise Tastet from Tastet.ca and Ian Harrison from Ricardo Cuisine to talk about the impact of digital media on food writing and criticism.
Friday May 26:
Grilled Host Tony Babinski will interview Nicola Farinetti, CEO of Eataly USA. (Time TBD)
The Grilled podcast is made possible by Moishes, and produced and hosted by Tony Babinski.
It’s all about collaboration.
May 2, 2017
Last week, Moishes hosted a special lunch to thank our guests so far for being on The Grilled Podcast. The lunch also had another agenda – to show gratitude to the many generous and talented chefs who had agreed to have their portraits taken to be hung on the restaurant walls by photographer and friend of Grilled Stéphane Cocke.
It was a tremendous crowd, including Costas Spiliadis of Milos, Dave MacMillan of Joe Beef, Emma Cardarelli of Nora Gray, Andy Nulman, Aaron Rand, Nick Hamilton, Anthony Rose of Rose&Sons, and many more. A unique mix of people showed up to spend some time together, and it was all over too quickly.
(Lenny Lighter of Moishes with Dave McMillan of Joe Beef, and Emma Carderelli and partners from Ryan Gray)
This gathering underlined what Associate Professor Karl Moore of McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management noted on a recent episode about the restaurant business. As he tells his students, the industry stands out because of the high degree of collaboration and cooperation between restaurateurs and chefs. We believe that this strong sense of community sets an example for other businesses, particularly during this age of disruption. If you listen to our show, you know that the restaurant business is a challenging one, on the front-line of changes in consumer tastes and habits. Restaurateurs and chefs respond to these challenges by sticking together.
(Costas Spiliadis of Milos with Aaron Rand of CJAD)
We’re not sure why this is. In Montreal, New York City, Toronto and, we are guessing, many many other places, people in the restaurant business all know one another. They’re naturally united by a common passion for good food and great dining. It’s clear from the interviews we’ve done so far that passion is what defines them, and unites them.
(Father/daughter critics Elise Tastet of Tastet.ca and Jean-Philippe Tastet of Le Devoir)
Prof. Moore also indicates that restaurateurs stand out because they have feet-on-the-ground, front-line experience with their customers, day after day. That’s rare in most businesses, where the distance between consumers and the brands that serve them can be vast, with many layers of management between the two. Who better understands this than people in the same field, and why not share insights and knowledge if you can?
(Robert and Vince Morena of Montreal’s fabled Saint-Viateur Bagel)
It was also interesting to see the mingling of generations at this lunch. At almost 80, Moishes is an institution. Milos is also a long-standing pillar of the restaurant scene, in Montreal and abroad. Both Lenny Lighter and Costas Spiliadis mixed enthusiastically with the rising generation of chefs who have made Montreal, in food critic Alan Richman’s words, “The best restaurant city in North America.”
(Arjun Basu of Spafax, Tony Babinski, Andy Nulman of Play the Future)
Much has been made of the possible rivalry between Montreal and Toronto. However, both this podcast and the presence and interest of Toronto’s Anthony Rose, Norman Hardie and John Bil show that even this long-standing competition may be a thing of the past.
(Robert Wilder and Anthony Rose of Rose &Sons with Dave MacMillan of Joe Beef)
All photos by Stéphane Cocke