Travel Blog

5 Feb

Meet a Montrealer: Lesley Chesterman

Montréal is famous for its great restaurants, and Montrealer Lesley Chesterman is renowned as one of the city’s premiere fine-dining critics and food columnists. The widely-respected Montréal Gazette food critic and author – whom you can also listen to on CHOM 97.7 FM and on the ICI Radio-Canada radio program Médium Large – is fearless and sometimes controversial, but always honest.

“I was with a big New York restaurant critic last week and he thinks the restaurant scene in Montréal is the best in North America, including San Francisco,” says Chesterman.

Lesley_ChestermanIn addition to her own reviews in The Gazette, Chesterman recommends reading’s Montréal page.

“I agree with about 36 reviews on their Eater 38 for Montreal – that list is very strong,” says Chesterman. “We’re the only Canadian city to have an Eater’s page – they gave up on Vancouver and Toronto. Montréal is really that good. Toronto and Vancouver get all competitive with us, but a lot of the chefs still look to us to set a trend. You are really looking at cuisine here that is based on Quebecers. There was a time when we looked to the French, but the Quiet Revolution in dining – when Quebecers went from lower jobs in kitchens to becoming chefs – created a unique cuisine.”

Job: Food critic for the Montreal Gazette and “chroniqueuse gastronomique” for the ICI Radio-Canada program, Médium Large.

Favourite pastime: Cooking, eating and drinking.

How long have you been a Montrealer?

I was born at the Montréal General Hospital in 1967, always lived in the Town of Mount Royal (TMR) and did 10 years on the Plateau. Always a Montrealer.

Centre-ville_MontrealWhat’s the coolest thing you’ve done so far this year?

I went out to see a movie! I was like a little kid, but I didn’t get popcorn – that’s indulgent. In fact, I saw two movies in the theatre last week! I wasn’t at home (watching Netflix) in my pyjamas drinking a glass of wine. I was downtown where this city has a rich history of storied cinemas, and I just loved being out with the crowd. (At home) I’ve become this Netflix-watching person: I got this projector for my computer and project (films) onto this huge sheet in my basement. It’s amazing! I even take this projector to the Laurentians where I can watch movies outside!

What’s the next big thing you’re planning?

I have a secret project that hasn’t been given the okay yet, but it has to do with the history of food in Montréal.

DuluthWhat’s your favourite Montréal memory?

Whenever my sister – who lives in Paris – comes to Montréal, we have something called “the circuit.” It starts where we used to live, on the corner of Duluth and Berri in the Plateau, and you walk all the way along Duluth to the Main (Blvd. St-Laurent), then you turn left or right and (eventually return along) Rue St-Denis. That’s a great Montréal tour. I think that walk says it all, in good times and bad. I’m such a TMR person, but my heart is in the Plateau where I attended the ITHQ (where Chesterman earned diplomas in patisserie, boulangerie and chocolate, ice cream and candy making). That’s my old stomping ground.

Schwartz_smoked_meatIs Montréal smoked meat all it’s cracked up to be?

It’s amazing, but if you grew up in Montréal, we take it for granted. The tourists get much more excited about it than we do. Every now and then I’ll stop in for a smoked meat and think, “Wow, this is so sexy, so sensual, the meatiness, the saltiness.”

What do you think of poutine?

I love poutine! I even love bad poutine! Though I never ate a poutine until I was about 35. I love it but at the end of eating it I have a terrible stomache ache, I feel dirty, like I did something really bad.

Restaurant_l-ExpressWhat’s your favourite Montréal restaurant?

L’Express is my favorite restaurant. It’s not really even a Montréal restaurant, it’s a French bistro. It represents to me a time when St-Denis Street was glamourous. Their staff have been there forever and they’re so nice. It’s uncomplicated and they don’t hate my guts like some other people do. We also make too much of lists and what’s the best restaurant; a restaurant is only as good as your last meal there.

Is it much better for a food critic to be anonymous?

It’s much better. In a perfect world a restaurant critic would remain anonymous because there is that very real problem of everything changing when they recognize you. But it is impossible as a freelancer because I have to brand myself for other work. But if I was a restaurant owner I would have every (food critic’s) picture on a chart in the kitchen. It’s super important – it’s free publicity. Newspapers still have a big readership. If you’re a restaurant owner, you better know what the critics look like, even if you don’t respect them.

Taverne_Square_DominionWhere do you like to go for drinks with friends?

I really love the Dominion Square Tavern where you get the Great Gatsby feeling with the lights and music. That’s the first place I really started having cocktails in Montréal.

What’s the one thing anyone visiting Montréal should absolutely do?

You have to go to a good restaurant. It’s easy to say, “Have a bagel or eat some smoked meat.” But it is better to go to a really good restaurant because you will see that the (culinary) level in Montréal is very high. For tourists I would say try one of our best restaurants. We’re world-class.

Read Lesley Chesterman in the Montreal Gazette, listen to her on ICI Radio-Canada, on CHOM 97.7 FM on every Wednesday morning at 7:10 am (click here for her entertaining CHOM podcasts), and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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