It seems like Christian Manuel Ventura Alatorre is unstoppable these days, and the planned opening of his new vegan Mexican street food restaurant Nopalito in the Plateau this Sunday—in commemoration of World Vegan Day on November 1—is proof of that.
Nopalito—which means "little cacti" in Spanish—will have a menu that focuses on Mexican tortas, sandwiches that can be served cold or hot, and will be up and running for takeout. While tortas are typically filled with meat, the restaurant will be following in the footsteps of the vegan chef's runaway sushi spot Sushi Momo (one of the spots for the best sushi in Montreal) and the vegan Japanese-Mexican fusion restaurant Casa Kaizen, which opened in July this year.
Unlike many others who are struggling, Ventura Alatorre shows no signs of stopping, but how does he do it? "It's all about adaptation," the chef told Time Out Montreal. "We need to be able to adapt in order to survive. It's not easy, one of the most challenging times for the restaurant business, (but) we just need to get creative with whatever sources we have at hand and work harder than ever before."
Tortas are very close to me because it was my comfort food when I was a kid.
"We are going to be focusing first on tortas, but we are going to slowly increase the menu's size," chef Ventura Alatorre explained. "Tortas are very close to me because it was my comfort food when I was a kid; there was a year when I ate a Torta de chorizo con papas almost every day, and it was the best year of my life. To be able to recreate that, but in a plant-based (way), brings me a lot of joy and good memories."
The decision to create this concept came from the chef seeing an absence of plant-based Mexican food in the city, a trend that's been taking off in California, Australia, Germany and elsewhere, according to the chef.
Ventura Alatorre's been a vegan for the past eight years, a choice he made following his yoga practice. "Around 2012, I signed up for a yoga class with Bram Levinson at his yoga studio in the Old Port. It was a revelation for me," he explained. "I enjoyed practicing yoga so much that I became an practically an addict. "I used to practice 7 times per week.... I went to multiple yoga retirements in Bali, India, New York, Greece, and Thailand."
That soon led to his work in the kitchen. "Eventually, one of my yoga teachers knew that I worked in a traditional fish sushi restaurant, and she kept asking me to make her vegan sushi for her. (That's when) I started experimenting," which led to the chef opening Sushi Momo at the age of 28, the first plant-based sushi restaurant in Canada. He's only moved locations in the city to acquire bigger spaces to keep up with demand.
"When I was a kid, I was always kind of curious about food," chef Ventura Alatorre says. "However, my dad never supported the idea of me going to culinary school. He said It wasn’t worth it, that I needed a "serious" school degree.
"Fortunately, I didn’t listen to him."
As for how the chef feels about opening a restaurant at a time like now, when the red zone restrictions in Montreal have been extended until November 23?
"When I opened Sushi Momo, I was also against the odds. Everyone was telling me that sushi without fish (wouldn't succeed)... Now, I'm happy to have inspired more people to open more vegan sushi spots. It means I'm doing something right."
Nopalito (3723A Saint-Laurent Boulevard) will open this Sunday, November 1; follow them on Instagram or Facebook for opening hour details. If you liked that story, stay up to date on everything we cover in Montreal by following @TimeOutMontreal on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.