Friday was a little bit surreal. I left work early, went home and made a quick omelette, and then ran to the metro. I took the Orange Line from Sherbrooke all the way up to Montmorency, and then hopped onto the bus that Google Maps had told me to hop onto. I spoke with the bus driver in my mediocre French and asked if his route would get me close to JC Perreault, a furniture store. He said it usually did, but (classic Montreal) the road near it was blocked with construction. He kindly took me a bit closer and then I trudged up wide, strip mall-covered streets and through car dealership parking lots, all the while fighting against the first real windstorm of the season. I finally got to JC Perreault and was shocked to discover that’s it’s extremely fancy and also vast– 120,000 square feet in size.
Why was I in the monumental JC Perrault, you might ask?
I was there to watch a cooking demo done by Chuck Hughes.
Chef of Le Bremner and Garde Manger, Chuck is best known for his restaurants as well as his Food Network show Chuck’s Day Off. I used to watch his show after school, and I loved how the show was centred around cooking for the people who don’t often get recognition in the food world- the electricians, the cheese suppliers, the linen guys, the coffee supplier, the landlords, the upstairs neighbours. His program really showed how many dozens of people it takes to keep a successful restaurant afloat. Each episode, he turned the spotlight on one unsung hero of his restaurant and made them a delicious meal on his day off.
In one truly endearing episode, Chuck cooked for his restaurant’s adorable dishwasher repairman and his wife. Watch it and learn to make lamb-stuffed cabbage rolls, crispy bacon potato wedges, and old-style cherry coke floats. Watch here.
In another, he thanked the firefighters who saved his restaurant after a very scary close call. He made them raw oysters on the half shell, salt-roasted prime rib with home fries and horseradish mayo, and pineapple flambé creme brûlée. Watch here.
Chuck’s food is comforting and unpretentious but full of flavour, and his recipes are perfect for entertaining and easy to follow. I love that Chuck’s Day Off gives you a look into a restaurant kitchen without the panic of service, and it also teaches you how to make restaurant-quality dishes at home.
These days, Chuck has quite a few things on his plate. He and his girlfriend Sabrina just welcomed a second baby to their family, and he’s still running his two extremely successful Old Port restaurants. He’s catered for Osheaga for the past five years, and recently came out with a line of kitchen staples:
In September, Chuck started a new venture and partnered with LG Electronics. He’s created several delicious recipes, called ChuckBites, that highlight their fancy, super-smart ovens and fridges. I got an email about a week ago from LG Canada’s PR team asking me to come by and taste some of the food and chat with Chuck, and even though the event was in Laval and I don’t have a car, it was obviously a resounding “yes!”. As it turns out, I’d emailed with Chuck’s publicist a few months ago for a story that I didn’t even end up writing, but luckily, she kept me on her list!
I watched all of the ChuckBites videos on Thursday in preparation for the event and found myself particularly intrigued by the cheesy tomato pie. To my delight, when I finally made it to the LG showroom’s kitchen, the ingredients for the savoury pie were all around. Fat heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, gruyere and cheddar cheese, phyllo pastry-here’s how he (and his lovely sous chef Tracey) made it:
It’s a simple recipe that yields a beautiful, super-flavourful pie that’s perfect for any potluck, dinner, lunch, midnight-snack, or breakfast. I’ll absolutely be making it at home some time this week.
Meeting Chuck, and having him and Tracy cook for me while we all chatted, was an experience I’ll never forget. I’d always thought that Chuck seemed cool, very exuberant and friendly, and the very premise of Chuck’s Day Off- making his collaborators feel appreciated- made me guess that he was a genuinely nice person. All of my through-the-TV impressions of Chuck were, in fact, completely spot-on.
I had a whole list of interview questions planned, but the whole encounter was so enjoyable and chill that I completely ignored the post-its in my pocket. We chatted about restaurant life, the Montreal food scene, Mexico, and the ups and downs of the industry. At certain moments I zoomed out and realized I was actually talking to someone I’d been looking up to for about a decade and got a little starstruck, but most of the time, I just really, thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Full episodes of Chuck’s Day Off are available at Food Network Canada’s website, so watch a few- I know that that’s how I’ll be spending my Sunday.