Cheryl Johnson et Charles-Antoine Crête, culinary heavyweights

Charles-Antoine Crête is a unique player on the Montreal restaurant scene. He’s flamboyant but never garish, and his new restaurant is the perfect reflection of this man and his world.

During our visit, the star of Montréal Plaza was the tuna delivered that very morning from the Gaspé. Charles-Antoine Crête had plenty to say about it, as he did about every topic we covered in the interview – from his fishing trip to Australia, to the knife he had made in Japan for the fish he caught, his connection to regional fishermen, and his years of working to keep Quebec tuna in Quebec. Excessive, steadfast, creative, and respectful are among the adjectives one might use to describe Crête, and let’s not forget loyal – loyal to his convictions, as well as to the people who have made him who he is. This includes his parents, Chef Cheryl Johnson, and Chef Normand Laprise, with whom he spent 14 years at Toqué!. “Leaving Normand was like leaving a girlfriend. We mourned together. But we consult with each other frequently and talk every day. I am eternally grateful to him for helping me grow as a chef.” Toqué! is also where he met Chef Johnson, who is his partner, but Crête primarily describes her as “my best friend, my sister.” On Johnson, Crête says “We complete each other. I would never have done this if she hadn’t been there, and vice versa.”

It is impossible to pigeonhole Charles-Antoine Crête. Still, he likes things to be structured and organized. “I’m totally hyperactive, completely over the top, so I really need good, solid structure,” which is why he surrounds himself with the right people. “This environment, this universe, was built by my family and my friends. It looks and feels like me. People who come here feel good. At least, I think they do,” he says, touching wood on the family dining table made by his father – the one he did his homework on, and which now stands in his office in the restaurant. Crête’s father, a cabinetmaker and sculptor, also built the restaurant’s sideboard, and a large table, as well as the wooden columns, working hand-in-hand with designer Zébulon Perron, who brought in the idea of metal to give the space the spirit of a Parisian brasserie crossed with a traditional French-Canadian home. “Without realizing it, we recreated my parents’ home.” Hence the greenhouse full of orchids, his mother’s favourite flowers, and clocks from his father’s collection. And let’s not forget the workshop! “I grew up with my tools, and I always need them handy.” He used them recently to build a home for his stuffed bear, Ritalin, a childhood gift from his aunt, and his alter ego online.

“All these spaces are inhabited; they bring the restaurant to life.” The dining room capacity was 140, but Crête decided to restrict it to 70. He also wanted a menu and wine list that everyone would feel comfortable with. “I like it when there are no class distinctions in a restaurant,” he notes. Another distinctive feature of Montréal Plaza is that it is open every night of the week. “We gambled that seven dinners and no lunch service would work here.” For this chef who thinks outside the box, togetherness is everything. “With age and maturity, I’m starting to be more comfortable with myself. And this project, like all my projects, is a collective effort.” Montréal Plaza is most certainly a close-knit restaurant.

Montréal Plaza is most certainly a close-knit restaurant.

Photos: Xavier Girard Lachance

Cheryl Johnson et Charles-Antoine Crête, culinary heavyweights – e-mag

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