There are good chefs in Montreal, and then there are great chefs in Montreal—we want to hear their stories. That’s what you’ll find in these interviews, a series where Time Out Montreal talks to the incredible women representing the best of this city’s restaurant scene, all of whom can be found at Time Out Market Montréal. For our sixth interview, we spoke to chef Mélanie Blouin whose unforgettable culinary work at the market eateries for Club Chasse et Pêche and Il Miglio blows us out of the water every time we taste it. We talked to her about her path to becoming to a chef, her experiences at the market, and how she handles leadership.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Without pretension and with the generous spirit of a born teacher, Mélanie Blouin has established herself as one of the top chefs in Montreal. Over the last 17 years, she has worked alongside Claude Pelletier as head chef at Club Chasse et Pêche in Old Montreal and, more recently, at Il Miglio, their new collaborative restaurant project. As a woman working in a male-dominated field, Blouin’s experiences as a chef are relatively unique. She considers herself lucky for not having met with any particular gender discrimination and works hard to create a kitchen environment with an emphasis on communication, communication and teamwork.
Have you always wanted to work in the restaurant industry?
I was very young when I learned to cook at home. I loved cooking and would look through my mother’s cookbooks, trying out all kinds of recipes. I never imagined doing it as a job, but we always ate well in my family. We had a garden, and we even raised small animals. At home, it was important to eat well, and I’ve always been in that mindset. Then, I studied anthropology and semiology in university. I was very interested in language theory, but, at a certain point, I realized that I needed to move more. At university, you’re always sitting down, in front of a computer and always reading; I found that it didn’t suit my personality. I felt that I needed my work to be a bit more physical. So, I left the university behind and went to do my DEP in cooking. I was 26 years old. Afterwards, I started working with Claude Pelletier, a restaurant owner.
It’s been 17 years since I started working with Claude. Last year, Claude brought up the Time Out project, and I decided to do it. After all, I had already been working at the other restaurant [Club] for a long time. I needed a new challenge.
Were there any specific challenges in adapting the restaurants to Time Out?
The hardest part was adapting le Chasse et Pêche. Il Miglio wasn’t hard, as we’re always producing the pasta. It was just a matter of producing more pasta and having it delivered to the market. For le Chasse et Pêche, we make everything here, and the kitchens aren’t very big. The big challenge is space. We’re trying to recreate the high level of Chasse et Pêche in a much smaller space. We thought when we put together the menu that we had chosen relatively easy recipes, but it was nonetheless complicated. It’s a lot of preparation to do in the space. In the beginning, when Time Out just opened, and there were a lot of people, we were always here. All my employees worked incredible hours in the beginning. I was there too, seven days a week. Now though, it’s much better.
Even in 2020, there is a substantial gender disparity in restaurants. Have you encountered any obstacles as a woman in your experience with the industry?
In my experience, no, but maybe I’m lucky. My partner stayed home for a long time with my son so I could go to work. He worked part-time and stayed at home. In that sense, I’m lucky. Of course, Claude [Pelletier] and I get on very well; it’s been 17 years we work together. The majority of my staff are men, but I think we have a good connection. Of course, I’ve had women in my kitchen who have had problems with men, but it’s not the type of thing I allow to happen. Right away, if I see something isn’t working out, I talk to people, and things settle down pretty quickly. However, in kitchens that are not as well managed, where the boss isn’t paying attention to what’s happening, things may deteriorate. I talk a lot with my staff to make sure everyone is happy, and everything is going well. I tell them to come to see me if they need anything. From the beginning, I want people to know they can come to talk to me, and we can work things out before a problem gets worse.
Teamwork is essential. I’ve worked in kitchens where people compete with each other, and I’ve always felt that was counterproductive. We’re more efficient when we work as a team and communicate. In my kitchen, everyone must do every job. I find people are more motivated that way, and generally, more efficient.
You’ve already accomplished a lot in your time working in restaurants. What does the future hold?
Let’s say, I never expected to work at Time Out. If we stay more long-term at the market, maybe I’ll let some of the younger workers take care of the kitchen a little more. I want to teach and work a bit in academia.Share the story