Executive Chef Marc St. Jacques lands at Auberge du Pommier.
When’s the last time your mother plated something?” laughs Marc St. Jacques, the newly hired chef at Toronto’s famed Auberge du Pommier. It’s a wry comment on the state of today’s fine dining, just one of many quips the chef — formerly from Michael Mina at the Bellagio in Las Vegas — makes to underline his belief that quality food needn’t be served with a side of pretention.
After working in the U.S. for the past 15 years, St. Jacques is happy to be home, cooking at the Yonge street resto he remembers as a teen. “I don’t believe in four seasons,” he says emphatically. “I believe in micro-seasons and food changing constantly.”
Favourite Ingredient: “Vegetables in season”
Delighted to swap Sin City for Hogtown, the married, 6’s5″ 36-year old says Vegas diners are hard to please. “Vegas is the worst example of trying to judge somebody’s palate, it’s a tough market. Everybody’s coming in from somewhere else.”
As a young boy, St. Jacques grew up on French-Canadian staples such as tourtière, cretons and sugar pie, cooking with his family. But these days he wants to continue the tradition of making food taste good. “At Auberge, we’re big believers in making beautiful food that’s yummy. To me there’s a difference… delicious is ‘wow, this tastes really good. Yummy makes you wanna lick your fingers,” he laughs, “It’s one of the first things that disappears in fine dining.”
Clearly, his training has served him well and apprenticeships along the way have been impactful. But he believes fast fame hinders many new chefs. “They don’t know the yummy,” he says smiling, “like, how did you make this taste really good?”
Culinary Heroes: “My mother and grandparents”
As a mentor to others, St. Jacques wants his brigade of 20 to focus on that imperative, and to live by his kitchen rule that it’s not a privilege for a saucier to create a dish for service, it’s an expectation. “They have to contribute, they don’t have a choice and the pride they take in the dish is great.” It’s about teamwork. “It’s not my cuisine, it’s our cuisine.”
Among the restaurant’s most popular dishes are Dungeness crab salad ($23), poached breast of pheasant with glazed chestnut and spiced jus ($18), roasted foie gras, with ‘vinegared’ red cabbage and garni grand-veneur ($26), and pear terrine ($11).
Where did you recently have a great meal?: “It was our staff holiday meal. Moto, my sous chef, made Ramen”
He’s excited by Toronto’s wealth of products. “Our guests have a great appetite for rich food and things that soothe your soul.” But in Vegas, it can be January, and people are coming down from Cleveland and they think they’re in the Caribbean and want mango and papaya.”
The chef, whose stints include Detroit’s Saltwater, and Chicago’s NoMI, is a firm believer in staying in one place a long time. “There’s something romantic and special about it,” he says smiling. “I have a hard time understanding young celebrity chefs. It used to take 15 years to get three Michelin stars, now it takes six minutes,” he quips. St. Jacques, who motivates his staff with the tall order to make food taste good, just loves to cook. As for those craving food-show fame, he’s not a fan. “You’ve got cooks, who are celebrity cooks before they even know how to cook.”