While working as a waiter, David Forbes discovered a passion for the restaurant industry. Seduced by the energy and excitement, he abandoned his journalism studies to seek a career in the culinary arts instead. “For me, cooking seemed like the right thing,” Forbes explains. “I had a lot of energy and [restaurants] could ground my energy.”
Forbes attended Montreal’s l’Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie du Québec before taking his first job preparing brunch at Café Eldorado. He spent several years in Montreal kitchens, working under William Frachot at Caprice de Nicolas and as sous-chef at Leméac.
Returning to his hometown of Quebec City, Forbes exercised his creativity as chef at Le Café du Cloché Penché and at Le Cercle before meeting Cirque du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier, who brought Forbes on to the Le Massif de Charlevoix project to work on the concept for Les Labours — the local-focused restaurant at Hôtel La Ferme (now Le Germain Hotel Charlevoix) in Baie-Saint-Paul.
Through it all, Forbes’ career — as well as his food — have remained deeply rooted in Quebec. This, he explains, is because of the deep cultural connection he feels with food. “For me, food has to stay personal. Cooking is cultural; it’s like singing. You can take influence from other people, but you wouldn’t see someone like Neil Young trying to do Indian-style singing,” he adds. “My culture is about where I live and what people are growing and talking about.”
Today the 42-year-old chef can be found creating his Québécois fare at Groupe Restos Plaisirs’ Ciel! Bistro-Bar — the new rotating restaurant atop the Hôtel le Concorde in Quebec City. “It was an opportunity that picked me up out of the field and brought me to the top of the city,” Forbes quips.
Since opening last October, the chef and the team at Ciel! have faced their share of challenges. “It was a really interesting learning curve,” he says. “We started with a whole new team and the kitchen upstairs is small for what we have to do.”
Despite the growing pains, Ciel! has landed on the shortlist for EnRoute magazine’s “Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2015.” As the restaurant’s executive chef, Forbes has been delighting guests with dishes such as mackerel gravlax with radishes and cauliflower ($10), a ravioli of butternut squash with corn mousse ($24) and braised veal cheeks served with parsnip puree, sunchokes and armillaria mushrooms ($28).
When all is said and done, the most rewarding part of his career is the way food brings people together. The chef has acted as a catalyst in multiple projects by introducing people with similar interests, such as connecting a young aquaculturist with a friend who was struggling to source Canadian salmon large enough for smoking. “For me, that is probably the greatest accomplishment — forming relationships and making our food culture in Quebec stronger.”
Volume 48, Number 8