Montreal chef and Food Network star Chuck Hughes’ takes on why you should dine in Quebec.

Mediaplanet: What inspired you to become a chef?

Chuck Hughes: Basically, playing with food! My mom always got me involved in the kitchen when I was young. She has always loved to cook and has always admired chefs.  But she wasn’t just teaching me how to make an omelette, she taught me how to clean, to be efficient, to properly set up and put things away, etc.Everything really, except how to cook, she kind of let me figure it out... I’m still working on it!

MP: The province of Quebec is known for its incredible culinary landscape.  What makes it different from other provinces?

CH: Our cooking has been greatly influenced by French cuisine. Culturally, we are passionate about good food and entertaining.  We are particularly blessed to have farmland, forests, lakes, and ocean which give us access to such great ingredients. Having travelled across Canada, I’ve witnessed great food in every province, but what makes Quebec unique and different has also a lot to do with the many different ethnic communities who have over time made Quebec food what it is today!

MP: Tell us about Garde Manger & Le Bremner. What inspired the names and makes them unique?  

CH: Garde Manger was my first restaurant and it opened in 2006. The name is from my favourite position in the kitchen.  The person with that title does a little of everything, from appetizers to desserts, but also, they are in charge of the pantry — whatever comes in and goes out.  Le Bremner opened seven years ago out of a desire to try new things, be creative, and take a more international approach to local products. Garde Manger was very popular from the start, and some items on the menu became classics and we just couldn’t take them off! We needed a new challenge and a new artistic outlet. The name is from a plaque that is by the front door, ”Bremner & Sons” — it’s probably been there for 200 years — so you can say it is paying a bit of homage to the history.

MP: What are the best dishes to order at each of your restaurants?

CH: I stand by every dish at both restaurants, but if I had to choose... Garde Manger has always been known for our seafood platters.  It’s a large tower filled with seasonal seafood. Pretty unique and impressive. At Le Bremner, things change quickly...It depends on what our fishermen catch! Right now try the clams. And we’ve been known to make great pancakes.

MP: Do you buy your food locally?

CH: Since the beginning we have worked with local suppliers, farmers, fishermen, and foragers for most of our local ingredients.  My relationship with them is important, so last year I launched a line of products called ”My Kitchen Staples” that highlight the people I work with. There is My Vegetable Farmer’s Antipasto from my buddy Lino and My Woodsman’s Maple Syrup, from Louis-Charles and olive oil from my landlords’ family in Crete, to name a few.

MP: What is your favourite dish to eat?

CH: Touchy subject... the list is pretty long! But right now, I’m eating a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine. I recently travelled to Jordan and Turkey, where I fell in love with the culture, the people, and the food. But right now, my ultimate favourite is Syrian food... Or is it pizza? I told you it was complicated!