Pure Food Freedom: A Story of No Fixed Menu

October 01 2019

After meeting through mutual friends with matching passions for flavours, Montreal Chefs Hakim Rahal and Pablo Rojas decided to dive headfirst into the idea of building their restaurant vision together. Today, they are the Chef owners of Provisions Wine Bar + Butcher and Provisions Restaurant, with a third location on the way.

We visited Provisions to learn more about this dynamic duo’s approach to changing up their menu on the daily.

Describe how your journey into the Montreal culinary community first began. What did your dream restaurant look like at the time?

HR: It was the first job I had. I then realized that I liked it and had a talent for it, so I kept going. I honestly had no idea what my dream restaurant would be because I didn't really know that I was going to be doing this for that long. It’s kind of evolved into Provisions, where we and the customers have fun.

The menu at your current restaurant, Provisions, has been described as spur-of-the-moment cuisine. Explain the concept behind your preference for this over a fixed menu.

PR: The menu always changes at Provisions to stay as local as possible. It’s based off of whatever we feel like doing that day or week. We like to bounce ideas off of each other, but we also don't want to repeat ourselves. What used to drive me crazy as a chef was having to redo the same dish over and over, day in and day out. Lastly, we always want to be able to work with the best ingredients that we can get our hands on. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in promoting your menu offerings to the public in light of the frequent changes?

HR: Getting customers to realize that even though our menu is a surprise and changes all the time, we're super flexible. If there are any allergies or restrictions, we can work around them, no problem. We want people to have the best experience possible and for them to give us the most information possible.

What remains most consistent in your flavour process despite serving constantly changing cuisine?

PR: I think Hakim and I both have the same vision of how our plates should be. It's always about the balance of acidity, sweetness, and texture so that you don't get bored as you're eating. With all of our dishes, you’ll always have that crunch and your palates will be alert the entire meal.

How do spices and seasonings come into play with Provisions’ dishes?

HR: We use a lot of spices and seasonings. It all plays into what Pablo was saying about how we always try to have different textures and flavours. We want the dishes to pop and it's a tasting menu so you're not getting huge portions, but we still want every bite to be memorable.

Explain how you believe cooking out of Montreal impacts your day-to-day processes and menu concepts?

PR: In Montreal, there are a lot of people from all over the world; even Hakim and I have different backgrounds. All of our cooks have come from different places as well so there are a variety flavours and techniques being used in the way that we cook. We also need to keep ourselves informed about what’s going on in Montreal to adapt the city’s trends into our menu changes.

What makes Montreal’s food scene different from others you’ve witnessed? How could it grow from here?

HR: I think Montreal is a melting pot in a truer sense of the word. There are all kinds of cultures and cuisines; you can eat across the board here. We might not have high-end restaurants like other cities do but I think our food stands up to any other city in the world. I don't even believe we need to grow from here, I think we just need to be Montreal. We can be proud of what we do and know we're world-class, even if we're not in the media as much as New York or Chicago.

What ingredients or dishes would you love to experiment with in the near future?

After four years of changing our food all the time, we've gone through a lot of ideas. I guess the only thing left would be the use of snakes and insects. So, at the end of the day, whatever people are ready to eat, we'll pick it. 

Describe your relationship working together and how it’s worked to make Provisions what it is today.

HR: We only really knew each other through other people before we got the idea to start the restaurant. We had never worked together, and it just happened to work out really well. We're similar enough in style that it works seamlessly throughout the menu but there are also enough differences that it keeps it interesting. Like anyone else in a working relationship, we've had a few arguments, but it always works out. We're still here four years later so something's working. 

PR: We're like a Tinder date that worked. We're still together and now opening our third restaurant together. We're both in the role of Chef Owner, but I cook less. I take care of the floor because it's a chef-driven restaurant where the cooks are serving. At one point, the restaurant got so busy that I had to just do the floor, and still do. I also still do the menu and day-to-day operations in the kitchen until it's service time. Once service starts, I'm the front-of-house and Hakim's running the kitchen.