Montreal En Lumiere Festival

10 Jan

Late winter in Montreal can involve a lot of shuffling around in underground tunnels when it’s too slap-in-the-face cold to brave the streets. Thankfully, there’s a culinary and cultural festival on from February 21 – March 3, with the kind of schedule that gives you the will to get out and have fun. It’s called Montreal en Lumière, and I was lucky enough to go last year. I’m sharing my top 5 highlights here, as well as some tips on what to do in 2013.

1. A foodie tour with Tourism Montreal, stopping at:

La Maison Pierre de Calvet–a 1725 house in Old Montreal where the chatter of a pet parrot in the Victorian greenhouse blends in with the clinking of knives and forks in the adjacent dining room.

Atwater Market–Best known for its flowers, and a place to pick up everything from craft beer to sugar pie to artisanal ketchup. These dark chocolate twigs flecked with maple sugar chunks (below) would make a fantastic souvenir for loved ones at home… or in my case an airport tea dunker.

♥ Dreamy kitchenware store and cooking school Les Touilleurs on Laurier Street, Plateau Mont Royal. I fell in love with these brass cookie cutters.

2. Lunch at Le Quartier Général–also on the Plateau
The menu was Seattle street food-inspired. Most mind-searing: the burger blinis and the deep-fried, sugar-showered churros, with chocolate chili dipping sauce. For the 2013 Montreal en Lumière festival, the team here will be firing up the BBQ, Argentine-style.

3. Gaspesie foraged food and Quebec beer pairings at DNA
It’s not every day you dine on blood cake with sea buckthorn, hedgehog mushrooms and moss–unless you’re a forest fairy–but it’s a fun experience nonetheless, especially when master forager Gerard Mathar is walking round with a basket of wild plants ready to explain which Northern Quebec herb’s best for goat curry and which indigenous berry ought to give green grapes the permanent shove from your cheese platter. While DNA no longer exists (was that moss side salad just a dream?), its former executive chef, Derek Dammann, has opened a new gastropub, in partnership with his old boss and close buddy Jamie Oliver. Track him down this year at Maison Publique.

4. Belgium-meets-Quebec Cooking lesson at La Guilde Culinaire
I somehow messed up the Guinness chocolate mousse (too gritty) and purposely ducked out of prepping the rabbit (too cute when alive), but otherwise loved the experience of rolling my sleeves up with locals to make a multi-course dinner in GC’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. Bonus: staff take care of the dishes. In 2013, festival-goers can put together a five-course Argentinian dinner with wine pairings.

5. The Devil in the Sugar Shack brunch at Bistro Cocagne
This one was a big surprise. I’ve done Quebec sugar shack before. It’s all about deep fried pigs ears, beans bathed in hot maple syrup, stodgy maple pudding–and lard, lard, lard. At Cocagne, things are much more  lardy-dah. (Sorry.) I nibbled on venison ham with nectarines and fig puree, and just a trickle of maple syrup to keep on theme. I dug into guinea fowl confit with roasted roots and oozy-yolked, breaded fried egg. I swooned over velvety vanilla pannacota with caramelized nuts and diced apples.

This year, executive chef Alexandre Loiseauis is repeating the sugar-shack brunch experience on festival Sundays (Hurrah!), as well as doing a maple and foie gras event some evenings and teaming up with renowned Buenos Aires chef Sebastián Tarica on a special collaborative menu, 21 and 22 February.

For the full 2013 festival program–culinary and cultural, visit:

Where to Stay
Night owls will enjoy the lounge vibe of W Hotel–think lava-lamp-like glowing bedside tables and cloudy blue sky art. Culture vultures will appreciate the Sofitel–on the Golden Mile, near Musee des Beaux Arts. Bravehearts, pack your fleecy onesies and book a room at the Ice Hotel.




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