Stéphanie Audet of LOV in Montreal: Maverick Chefs 2018
Each year, Quench sets out in search of Canada’s culinary visionaries – The Mavericks – those chefs who are leading the charge of what’s fresh and exciting from coast to coast. This year’s Maverick Chefs are four innovators focused on incorporating sustainability into everything they do – from planning to creating to planting to cooking. We’ve already met chefs Mitchell Bates, Todd Perrin and Steven Brochu; this week, Amanda Siddall speaks with our fourth and final Mav Chef, Stéphanie Audet.
LOV was just a seed in the minds of its owners when Stéphanie Audet first joined as Executive Chef in early 2016. The plan was to open a vegan restaurant in the heart of Montreal. Creating all the recipes for this new venture came naturally to Audet, who had been working for a decade as an independent food consultant specializing in vegetarian cuisine — a specialty that not many food consultants offered. She developed single vegetarian recipes up to whole menus for restaurants in need of delicious plant-based fare.
Audet never imagined she would become a chef. Her career began by chance when she pursued a dream of moving to Tofino, British Columbia, in 2006. She took a job in a hotel kitchen; her curiosity to learn from the cooks combined with her natural skills allowed her to move up quickly. She decided to take another leap and move to Hawaii, where she started her own restaurant working with raw and botanical ingredients native to the islands. Audet’s passion for travel and food fostered in her the importance of sustainability and local cooking. She’s strived to incorporate these sustainable practices in all her creations ever since.
Why is sustainable cooking so important to you?
It means everything should be optimal — optimal for the eaters and their own health; optimal for the planet and doing as little damage as possible; and optimal for the kitchen efficiency so that it can be realistic. LOV has three high-volume locations and they could have up to 600 customers per day combined — we need a lot of food in our fridge. For me, sustainable cooking is the logistics between all of those elements.
Favourite local ingredient to work with?
I would have to say miso. We have this amazing miso company we work with from the Eastern Townships in Quebec called Aliments Massawippi. It’s world class! They are a lovely couple who have been doing this for years and years out of their home. They are making a very high-quality product. It enhances everything. It’s an umami flavour from the fermentation that enhances vegetable cuisine. It’s nice to have that because sometimes you find this umami taste in meat, fish or cheese. I love to cook with miso.
What do you think will be the next big trend in Canadian cuisine?
Farm-to-table or garden-to-table has been around for a long time, but we wanted the recipes to be more transformed. Before if you cooked a zucchini, you had to really do a bunch of techniques and stuff to it. I feel like the next trend will be accepting the raw product and discovering it for what it is. For example, you may be served a fresh cucumber that was picked today and the cucumber isn’t too transformed before it ends up on the plate. That way you keep the authenticity. I think people are becoming more open to that.
What’s your favourite dish to eat?
Am I allowed to say soup? I adore soup, all types of soup. Soup is like a love letter: it’s comforting. Take, for example, a hearty homemade soup or creamy potage. I could eat it for the rest of my life and not be bored. And even in the hot summer weather, cold soups are amazing. Hot and spicy is actually helping your body stay cool in the summer. When you eat something spicy, your body is working to cool down your temperature. It’s like your own personal AC system. At the restaurant in the summer, we do a lot of different types of gazpacho, such as cold asparagus and fennel soup, tomato-melon and more. The customers seem to love it. Gazpacho can be very creative.
What’s your cooking mantra?
The philosophy I have always had since my first job is to put positive energy into the food. Food is definitely able to absorb and diffuse it afterwards. When my staff and I are cooking, I am always trying to have good emotions. I’ve witnessed it before where you’ve just gotten into a fight with someone and you’re cooking while angry. It provides rage and sadness to the eater. I’ve felt it before eating at other restaurants, too. When I don’t feel good, I prefer not to create a recipe or cook right at that moment. I usually get some air to try to feel better before starting again.
What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
Never think you will stop learning. There’s always something to learn. I’ve met people in my career who thought they were better than others; I’m disappointed when I meet someone who is like that because I wouldn’t approach work like that. It’s like music: if someone picked up an instrument and was naturally good at it versus someone else who studied music for a decade, it doesn’t mean that they both can’t learn from each other. Keep in mind that there’s always something to learn and always another experience around the corner to teach you something.
What areas of veganism do you want to explore or incorporate next?
Slowly I’m introducing fermented food at LOV. We have kimchi and one fermented carrot dish, and miso, obviously, on the menu. But there’s so much to learn from fermented foods and their uses. I think we should have a little bit of fermented food every day in our diets. Not everybody who knows what it is will be comfortable eating it. I’d like to have more on the menu but I don’t think I can add too much more. If I put some on each plate, people may be disappointed, but every time I create a new recipe, I am wondering how I can put something living in there. Sometimes it doesn’t work out; it’s a work in progress.
In the spring, I changed our sprout company. I got a very cool, local microgreens company called Ôplant. They’re doing amazing micro sprouts. They’re super pretty and there are different types. It’s an all-natural, high-quality sprout that’s alive and is charged with the energy of a whole vegetable — like a broccoli. If you imagine a broccoli sprout, it’s charged with all the energy to become a broccoli. It’s good to have that on your plate. I was very happy to add that this summer.
What plant-based meatless alternatives are trending in 2018?
We really want to focus on lupini beans. They are very rich in protein and, if we are looking for a high-protein-based alternative to meat, this is a new one. Lupini beans are not as well known in Canada, more in the northern European countries like Germany. They’re really tasty and we are importing a bunch to work with. The trend of doing a steak that looks like a steak but it’s not — that’s not for us. We want to find a less-transformed alternative: a high-protein, plant-based version. I have seen more lupini options popping up at cooking shows too.
Young coconut ceviche
400 g young coconut meat, fresh and cleaned
1/4 cup coconut milk
80 ml lime juice
Zest of 1 lime
60 g tri-colour radishes
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
20 g cancha corn
4 g fleur de sel
40 g goji berries dried
1 tsp Aleppo pepper
4 to 5 g cilantro microgreens
Cut the young coconut meat into strips. Add the coconut milk, lime juice and zest. Salt to taste. Thinly slice the radishes with a mandoline.
In a saucepan with a bit of oil, pop the cancha like you would popcorn. Salt and set aside.
Soak the goji berries in water and a splash of lime juice, put aside. Divide the coconut among 4 plates and garnish each plate with goji berries, radish slices, Aleppo pepper, popped cancha and fleur de sel.
Finish the dish by adding cilantro sprouts on top.