For over 20 years, Toque! has been a leader in Quebec's gastronomy, quickly becoming a landmark in the last two decades. In 2012, the restaurant launched its very first cookbook titled Toque! Les artisans d'une gastronomie Quebecoise, a 400-page book outlining the philosophy behind the business. The locally inspired menu and all encompassing wine list has seen the restaurant earn an abundance of awards, from GQ Magazine, Wine Spectator, Gourmet and Food & Wine. Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux Normand Laprise and Sommelier Maxime Lavellee tell us more.
Congratulations on being featured in the World of Fine Wine Awards 2015. The awards, chaired by WOFW editor Neil Beckett, celebrate the importance of a good wine selection and are evaluated by a panel of senior judges. How does it feel to be recognized by industry insiders in this way?
Normand Laprise : It's stimulating to know our work is recognized. The team works hard everyday to bring the best to our customer's table and this feature is another thing to be proud of.
Where did your love of food and wine originate from?
NL : From the farm where I grew up. We had access to fresh and local food everyday during summer and we preserved everything we could for winter. Early on I had the chance to taste a lot of different flavours from our fields, rivers and forest.
Maxime Lavallée : I grew up in a family of restaurateurs where there was always something to celebrate. Early on I knew that I wanted to work and be part of a warm and convivial atmosphere and wine is the perfect way to achieve that.
Was it always your intention to work with fine wine?
ML : Yes, since Toqué! only works with the finest ingredients the only way to obtain optimal wine pairing is through the finest wines.
What is the secret to your success?
NL : Working on the best local, traceable products we can find and building a strong network of producers/suppliers and creative team in the kitchen.
What food and wine trends are you seeing in Quebec at the moment?
NL: We see more restaurants focusing on local products. It's great because Quebec gastronomy is relatively young and needs to be more promoted. We need to celebrate our food culture and support local artisans.
ML: there is a renewal of interest for organic and natural wines. Our guests are less interested in the label and more in the wine itself. They are looking for an adventure and they trust us to find the right pairing.
What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?
ML: balance, cost and variety. A good wine list needs to have something for every guest.
What would you predict for the next 5-10 years in the food and wine industry?
NL : More focus on traceability and authenticity, continued efforts towards locally sourced products, better and stronger relationships between chefs and artisans.
ML: interest in organic and natural wines. More focus on quality rather than quantity.
Are there any particular wines that you love, or remind you of a certain place or memory?
ML: wines from the Jura region. That's where I had my first truly exceptional wine experience. It's after tasting a wine from that region that I decided to become a sommelier.
What is next for you?
NL: We'll keep working on pushing the limits of our Québec gastronomy. Working on traceability as a whole system is a long-term goal that has started 25 years ago and will continue to be at the heart of our approach.
What is your fundamental philosophy on fine wine?
ML: It's not so much about the price and all about pleasure. My goal as a sommelier is to find the pefect match for your guests, not offering what I would personally like to drink. It's all about the experience.