Instead of sitting home being “lazy,” 12-year-old Marc-André Jetté landed his first job as a dishwasher at Les Quatre Feuilles, a restaurant in Rougemont, Que., owned by his best friend’s father. He immediately fell in love with restaurant culture. “It was fun,” he says. “People who work in the restaurant business are passionate” — they work hard and like the fast life.
Jetté gradually assumed more responsibility at the restaurant eventually moving from the sink to the stove. But, after 10 years, he left Les Quatre Feuilles to attend cooking school at the Armaud-Racitot in Saint-Jean, Que. Graduating in 2002, he enrolled at L’Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie du Québec and volunteered on weekends in kitchens with people who had the same passion. That led to internships and job stints in various Montreal restaurants.
It was at one of those restaurants where he met pastry chef Patrice Demers and sommelier Marie-Josée Beaudoin. The three were working together at Montreal’s Newtown restaurant in 2010 when a Quebec financier approached them about opening their own restaurant. Three months later, they unveiled Les 400 Coups in Montreal, which literally means “the 400 tricks,” reportedly a playful reference to the owners’ previous unnamed restaurant missteps.
The restaurant has been a success since the beginning. “Our first night, which was for friends and family, we were full, and since that first day we are full every night,” says the 31-year-old chef, speaking of the restaurant that has garnered positive reviews, often landing on “Best Of” lists. “I know it’s not always like that for every restaurant. We knock on wood.”
The successful business model is based on one theme. “We created … a simple restaurant with good food,” focused on cuisine and not decor, says Jetté. And, simplicity is also part of Jetté’s culinary philosophy. One of his favourite chefs is France’s Michel Bras whose eponymous restaurant he ate at when he was 21. “I do what I do in the kitchen because of him. I won’t say [it’s] simple but simply made; simple to understand.”
Jetté is inspired to create meals that are light and fresh. One of his most popular dishes is braised octopus with suckling pig, avocado and mustard ($16). Another bestseller is the seared scallops with pork belly, served with roasted cauliflower and cauliflower purée ($28).
Aside from the food, customer service is consistent with all 15 employees of the 54-seat establishment working together at all times. “People feel comfortable because they know who works here and our waiters know their clientele,” says the chef.
Eleven years after Jetté’s first job, the restaurant scene hasn’t lost its lustre for the chef. Although he admits being the co-owner and executive chef of Les 400 Coups has been a whirlwind, his greatest joy of the last two years has been providing the restaurant experience he always imagined: “not to have, but to give.”