Mathieu Cloutier and Jean-Philippe St-Denis share the stoves at award-winning hotspot in Montreal
Chefs Mathieu Cloutier (above, left) and Jean Philippe St-Denis aren’t your average chefs, or perhaps better put, they don’t run your average kitchen. For starters, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat at their popular Montreal restaurant, Kitchen Galerie, they won’t just cook your meal — they’ll serve your dinner, pour your wine and bus your table, too.
It’s all part of the scene at the 30-seat boîte, which is located across from the Jean Talon farmers’ market. Each morning, the culinary team spends time with producers at the market, picking the best of the best, before returning to the kitchen to figure out the evening’s menu. “J.P. and I opened our restaurant three years ago with no waiters, sommelier or bus staff,” says Cloutier. “To me, it’s like chefs going on a camping trip, and preparing camping-style meals in the city,” he adds.
Don’t get the wrong impression though; Cloutier and St-Denis won’t be serving chien-chauds stake-roasted over a bonfire. On this day, as they chat over the phone, the duo speaks of just returning from the market with their bounty, and pondering a dish featuring wild sea bass with cauliflower, caviar and a local arugula salad, and maybe throwing together a homemade terrine of guinea and Cornish hens.
That’s easy enough to pull together in the summer, with a market full of fresh fruit and veg, but what happens during winter? “It’s challenging,” says Cloutier. “In the summer, you always have something new showing up every week. In January and February, it’s all root vegetables, so we have to work harder. Thankfully, we’ve got four other cooks on staff, and when it comes to ideas during the day, we’re all on the same level. If someone has a good idea, we’ll try it.”
While much of the menu changes daily, diners can also chose from five different permanent foie-gras fixtures as well — one of which is prepared in a mason jar in the dishwasher — or a rib-eye-for-two option. In fact, despite their laid-back attitude towards menus — you read that right; the foie is steamed in a dishwasher — the team has serious culinary chops, which they showcased at the most recent Gold Medal Plates competition, beating out members of Canada’s cooking elite for the top prize. “Gold Medal Plates was amazing fun,” says Cloutier. “We got along really well with everyone, and it was a thrill to be able to compete with chefs like David Lee, Rob Feenie and Roland Menard. These guys are icons of the industry and set the bar really high.”
Not content to play in just one kitchen, the team also opened Chez Roger Bistro two years ago, and just last month they launched KGP (Kitchen Galerie Poisson), a slightly larger space with a focus on daily fish entrées. But despite the expanding empire, the duo says it’s still about producing fun, market-inspired fare, with a constant focus on the customer.
“The best part of our job is seeing customers happy,” says St-Denis. “It’s great when they’ve had a memorable experience and want to come over and shake your hand. Then, you get to see them walk back in a few weeks later with some friends. That’s our marketing program.”
Photography by Will Lew