Receiving a "Chef of the Year" award might prompt some people to rest on their laurels, but for Normand Laprise it was a cue to make a change. One of Montreal's youngest top chefs, Laprise won the prestigious Canadian title in 1998, then promptly headed for America's toughest restaurant town to become the executive chef at the new Flatiron eatery Cena, owned by Zoë's Thalia and Stephen Loffredo. (Laprise commutes between the two restaurants.) Not that things were slow at his own five-year old restaurant, Toque!, which Food & Wine called "the most exciting kitchen in Montreal."
"Exciting" is an adjective that just keeps popping up around Laprise. Dinner at Cena prompted The New York Observer's Moira Hodgson to praise him as "an eccentric and exciting cook, using unusual ingredients in complex and unexpected combinations. The menu sounds so interesting, you can't wait to try every dish on it." The ingredients aren't merely inventive. Laprise is known for his fanaticism about freshness-the only freezer at Toque! is reserved for sherbet-and his monthly menus at Cena similarly reflect his insistence on seasonal products.
Laprise grew up in Saint-Philippe-de-Neri, a village of just 800 people in eastern Quebec. He attended the Ecole Hôtelerie de Charlesbourg near Quebec City, then worked with Breton chef Jacques LePluart at Marie Clarisse in Quebec City's historic district. During a stay in France, he staged in restaurants in Lyons, Alsace, Reims, and at the Michelin two-star Billoux in Dijon. Back in Canada, he worked at Lutétia Restaurant at Hôtel de la Montagne in Montreal, then made a name for himself during a three-year partner-ship with restaurateur Claude Beausoleil at Citrus, an overnight sensation. He opened Toque! in 1993 to glowing reviews. "The best cook in the whole province of Quebec," the Montreal Gazette wrote. "The man virtually reinvents French cooking every night he goes to work."
It's doubtful that success will tempt Laprise to rest on his laurels. He's more likely to find a fabulous new way to cook with them-provided they're good and fresh.
Warm Barbary Duck