Chef Guillaume Cantin may have only ten years of cooking experience under his belt, yet he has already accomplished more than many chefs have during their entire careers. As executive chef at Les 400 Coups, which is known to serve the top French cuisine in the city, Cantin knows the secrets of running a successful restaurant.
With Cantin in the kitchen, it’s no wonder that it’s next to impossible to get a reservation on a Saturday night. A jack-of-all-trades, Cantin has been trained not only as a cook and pastry chef, but also as a sommelier and manager. He first began working as a line cook at various restaurants in Quebec, including the well-regarded Le Clocher Penché, after which he took the position of pastry chef at Quebec City’s award-winning restaurant, Panache. In 2010, his career hit a high note when he won the first season of Radio-Canada’s Les chefs! at only twenty-five years old. Of course, after such success, job offers came rolling in. Notable restaurateurs, Patrice Demers and Marc-André Jetté, took interest in him and offered him a position as sous-chef at Les 400 Coups.
“I had only one day to move to Montreal,” Cantin explains. “I knew that Patrice and Marc-André were doing a beautiful job at the restaurant and that this would be a good step for me.”
After a year of working under the talented Chef Jetté, Cantin moved on to work at Chez Victoire in Montreal’s Plateau and after that, the extremely prestigious Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton.
It wasn’t long before his phone rang again, and he was offered to return to Les 400 Coups, but this time as (drum roll, please) executive chef.
Describing his return to Les 400 Coups as “déjà vu”, Catin explains how it didn’t take long to take command of the kitchen. “Some people said it would be intimidating, but I didn’t feel as though I was filling the shoes of Marc André. I wasn’t replacing anyone. I was doing something of my own.”
Working alongside sommelier William Saulnier and Pastry Chef Brian Verstraten, Cantin explains that the success of their trio relies on teamwork and communication. “If you want to evolve and be greater, you have to work as a team,” he explains. Working with many talented people in the kitchen and out in the dining room, he is always sure to get their opinions, as being a chef is certanly not a one-man show.
Although eager to bring his flair to Les 400 Coups, Cantin made sure to change the menu slowly, as he feared, as any chef would, losing loyal customers. “I wanted to maintain the quality of the restaurant while adding my personality to the dishes.”
Cantin prides himself on the simplicity of his menu. “It’s not my goal to make things seem complicated. I want people to understand that food is simple.“
A “locavore” himself, Cantin believes in cooking with local ingredients and he does so by forming partnerships with Quebec farmers. On his menu, you’ll find information about where each ingredient was sourced, a rare sight indeed. Whether you order the succulent duck or tender pork, it has likely travelled less than a hundred kilometres to make it to your dinner plate.
“I am always working to create new flavours to showcase products that people may not be familiar with. It’s all about what is available in season.”
When asked about his inspiration, Cantin immediately mentions Chef Marcel Kretz. Kretz worked at Hotel La Sapinière in the Laurentians and was among the first chefs to include local ingredients on his menu. “He is like a grandfather to me,” Cantin explains. “He is so humble, yet you can see the fire in his eyes. He’s very passionate.”
Cantin rarely cooks at home because he’s always out and about, but when he’s hosting a dinner for friends, he opts for something easy (or at least by his definition): braised veal shoulder with in-season vegetables. He says it’s something even novice cooks can prepare. (Yes, it’s even easy enough for a college student to whip up!)
“If you take it out of the oven fifteen minutes earlier or fifteen minutes later, it’s not the end of the world.” I sigh in relief as he says this, as I’ve definitely overcooked a steak one too many times. “Once you learn how to braise meat, it opens the door to a lot of possibilites,” he adds.
Another quick and easy dish that Cantin recommends is simple buffalo milk mozzarella with sunflower oil, salt and pepper. Cantin makes his version with cold pressed oil from Moulin Les Cèdres, an organic farm outside of Montreal, and fresh Bufala Maciocia, a cheese from the only water buffalo farm in Quebec. Sounds a little better than your go-to string cheese snack doesn’t it?
When asked what his favourite type of food is, Cantin stays true to his roots. “I love French food. I will try different things but I always return to the cuisine I was trained to cook.”
Cantin sees himself opening his own restaurant in the future. But with years ahead of him and hundreds of veal shoulders to braise before he takes that next step, he’s in no rush.
Guillaume Cantin’s pâté de foie.
Photos provided by MTL Cuisine.