A jingle of the keys, the click of a lock, and the door opens. Hakim Chajar bounds up the stairs in a few long strides. “I found some tasty,fresh razor clams at the market today! I’ll be making a very special dish for tonight,” exclaims the executive chef of Laurea, a restaurant whose name is on everyone’s lips. Enthusiastic, fearless, and fantastically creative, the young chef is one of those passionate people who rejects complacency, and insists on renewing himself every day. This culinary composer was born in Morocco and grew up in Sherbrooke. His cooking reflects a multitude of influences. Not surprisingly, harmony is his leitmotif.
But it takes more than one person to run a kitchen. Sofiane Ghanmi is Chajar’s long-time friend and steadfast ally. The two met while working at Ariel. Souf, as he is known, is himself a brilliant chef, and acts the conductor, making sure everything runs smoothly. Quality and consistency are his watchwords, and he wields his baton with a peaceful calm. He guides his team firmly, yet respectfully, keeping time like a metronome.
Music is more than just a metaphor here. Every day, a soundtrack of hard rock albums from the ‘70s blasts a consistent rhythm. The playlist is by pastry chef Nicolas Sénépart, whose creations seem quite unrelated to the vigorous beat playing through the speakers. Diners can’t seem to find enough words to praise the originality of his ingredients, and his masterful balance of flavours. Sénépart delights in concocting sophisticated, subtle desserts, and is known for his minimal use of sugar.
What a treat it is for a sommelier like Jean Benoit Hinse to work with such talented people. The flavourful, aromatic dishes inspire him to enhance each dining experience with the perfect wine pairings. This veteran expert knows his way around red, white, and sparkling wines. He uses his seasoned palate and astonishingly sharp nose to pick exactly the right cuvées to add vibrancy to a meal, and make every diner happy. “A nice, sharp Sancerre is what you want with razor clams,” he says with a coy smile.
Is it possible have a full house every night? With a dedicated and dynamic woman like Cindy Simard as co-owner, it is. She loves her restaurant so dearly that she has no trouble bringing crowds through the door. There is no denying that she has a great deal to do with Laurea’s reputation and success, and she is not hard to spot: just listen for the click of her heels, or follow the laughter echoing from the tables she visits, as she stops to say hello to each of her patrons.
Another magical evening is over. The door closes; the lock is turned once again. The last strain of tonight’s thrilling symphony at Laurea fades into the night. And the players who came together for our sublime pleasure say their goodbyes, and head home for a well-deserved rest.
Photos: Adrien Williams