Oyster mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, peas, parsnips, asparagus, fiddleheads - vegetables are the main feature in chef John Winter Russell’s kitchen. Situated in what was previously a rectory in the Quartier de l’innovation (QI), local ingredients are made to transcend here.
It is not hard to understand why John Winter Russell was taken with the location where he set up his restaurant, Le Candide. A few steps from the Lachine Canal, on a street sheltered by Saint Joseph's Church (soon home to Salon 1861), the restaurant is tucked behind the doors of what was once the church’s presbytery. It is impossible not to marvel upon entering.
Set back from the main thoroughfares, Le Candide is a piece of the country within the city.
Originally from small-town Ontario, John Winter Russell has been cooking for eleven years and has lived in Montreal for seven. During his last trip to Spain, more specifically San Sebastián in the Basque Country, he fell in love with their conception of cuisine. "There is a real culture of food, wine and sharing." There, cooking with local ingredients is very common and it is what made him want to open Le Candide. "It’s one of the only places where I really had the impression of eating something unique, that I could not find anywhere else."
The young chef worked alongside Samuel Pinard, chef and co-owner of the Salle à Manger, Pas d’cochon dans mon salon and Farine. Today, at Le Candide, his key words are local harmony. He works with local suppliers and even owns two gardens, their products garnishing his dishes. "In gastronomy, it’s mostly the spirit of sharing and discovery that predominates," he says. This is why he hopes to introduce new experiences and flavours to his customers in an environment he describes as "unpretentious."
A Chef in Love with Vegetables
Vegetables are definitely the star feature in this kitchen. The latter is in osmosis with the seasons, creating an ever-evolving menu outlined as follows: oyster mushrooms, sunflower seeds and shallots; crab with carrots and yogurt; rutabaga and rye flirting with lamb...
"We do not do super elaborate transformations. For us, it’s all about choosing the right product and highlighting it: cooking it in the right way, showcasing its best features and bringing out its flavors."
If in French "candid" means "naïve, blindly optimistic", he confides that this is certainly a personality trait that one must possess when opening a restaurant. In English, "candid" means "honest, unpretentious" – adjectives that, in his opinion, aptly describe their dishes and service.
Promoting Locally-Produced Food
John Winter Russell has been well-received by the residents of the QI as well as other businesses. He values the spirit of mutual support found there. For him, innovation also comes about by upholding values such as appreciation for local artisans and their work. "It's not only the finished product that matters."
His best moment since opening the restaurant? "It’s not easy to pick just one. I’ve enjoyed a lot of great moments like when the peas arrived (my favourite food), or when a New York Times critic came and wrote an article about our restaurant, but also the fact that the entire team that started with me is still here..."
Be on the lookout for their patio opening this year – it will be a first!
Address: 551 Rue Saint-Martin, Montreal, QC H3J 2L6