Serving Montreal’s Tastes Through Time

October 18 2019

From Barcelona and Copenhagen to California, Chef Aaron Langille has been busy building his palate and skillset around the globe before choosing to call Montreal home.

Now as the Chef Owner of Le Diplomate, a casual small plates and wine-focused contemporary restaurant, he’s summing up 15 years of Montreal living and eating into his dishes, and the locals are biting.

We recently caught up with Chef Langille to learn more about his locally focused processes and the city’s food scene that nurtures them.

Having cooked around the world – Barcelona, Copenhagen and California – what inspired you to continue your culinary path in Montreal?

Montreal is just such an easy, open city to live in and the people are so friendly here. There's also a cost-benefit which really helps you start a unique restaurant concept that wouldn’t necessarily be successful within a bigger market like, New York City.

How do you define your cuisine? What did you feel were the biggest challenges serving your style, and how did you overcome them?

I've always had a hard time defining my cuisine. The best version that I've been able to come up with is that I am falling into Pacific Northwest cuisine. I say this because there are Asian influences in my dishes along with a lot of fresh products that are treated with a good amount of respect, acidity and umami.

For a long time, Montreal was, and still is to some degree, very much into classics like French bistro and Italian food so sometimes it's hard to get people to step outside of their bubble. Montrealer’s are usually quite open but you have to nudge them and then when they come in the first time, they love it. Afterwards, they’ll come in three weeks later with their friends. That said, occasionally, you still have people who need their croutons with their tartar or their fries with their steak. So, this will always remain a challenge.

Describe any twists, or ingredients, that you’ve added to your dishes to give them a local Montreal flair?

There are a lot of fun products that are available in Quebec and obviously the fresher they are, the better. To give these ingredients a Montreal flare, we often use products from Gaspé or instead of using olive oil, we often use sunflower oil from Le Moulin de Cedres. Little local twists like this tend to personalize our plates and give them more of a time and place aspect.

How do spices and seasonings come into play when creating your restaurant’s dishes?

It's always important to have the foundations of flavours added to any dish at the beginning. If your ingredients aren’t the freshest or of high quality, you need something to move along the flavour and give the plate more excitement or character beyond simply a radish or piece of meat.

Over the past few years, what has been the response from the Montreal clientele to your restaurant and the dishes that you offer?

Well, we're still open! A lot of our clientele has come in because of word-of-mouth. The customers seem to really like and respond well to how we take recognizable flavours and put them together in a different way. For example, our Cauliflower with Black Bean Sauce. Everyone has had a roasted cauliflower dish on their menu at this point but when you throw in a nice umami-rich black bean sauce with a bit of spice and coriander, it adds freshness and brightness to an otherwise regular vegetable in the middle of winter.

What are some small plates dishes you love to cook that might not resonate with the locals or your menus?

I love making Singaporean style chicken rice. I tried making a version at Cafe Sardine and the only people who enjoyed it were the locals. I received the best compliment from one of them that I've ever gotten but it still wasn't the biggest hit amongst the regular customers in Montreal.

In your own words, how would you describe Montreal’s food scene?

It's changing rapidly right now because there are a lot of fresh faces. In the last five years, if you wanted a good pizza, you had to go to Little Italy. If you wanted good French bistro food, you had to go to L’Express or Leméac. Now, these young people, including myself, are opening up their own places all over the city and regardless of where you live, you can just walk a few paces and find whatever it is that you’re craving. 

How could Montreal continue to build and improve as one of Canada’s culinary destinations?

I worry about how often I hear people talking about limiting the number of restaurants permits that can be distributed. It's mostly already-established restaurateurs fighting to stop newcomers from getting their permits and I don't necessarily find that fair.

What if you limit the number of permits and an immigrant family comes to town wanting to bring a really banging style of cuisine that we don't even have yet in Montreal? If somebody just tells them that they're not allowed to have a permit because there are too many restaurants in your neighbourhood, I could see all restaurants in the city being run by a consistent group of people.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a chef wanting to pursue a culinary career in Montreal?

I would recommend that they be honest with expectations. This isn't the biggest market and I think a lot of people get into restaurants thinking they're going become millionaires. You can definitely earn a living in this business but maybe not a fortune.

Over time, what I think will happen is that you'll get back to the people who are doing this because they want to. This is opposed to people who just saw it as a cool job while watching Anthony Bourdain gallivanting around the world or Chef’s Table. It's still a hard career with lots of hours and it takes a long time even to get to where I am.

What can we see coming to the centre-of-the-plate at Le Diplomate?

A lot of bright flavours, fresh herbs and a bit of spice without being overpowering. There will also be a lot of fermented products and acidity to brighten up the heavier notes on some otherwise brown dishes. When the season is a bit nicer, a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.