The phrases “maple syrup” and “poutine” often come to mind when one thinks of Canadian cuisine. After all, these flavours are often exclusively associated with the True North. However, Montreal-based chefs Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles believe that the Canuck palette is a vast one, and that the varying tastes of the country are influenced by both land and sea.
Hughes is the co-owner of Montreal restaurants Garde Manger and Le Bremner, while Smiles is a chef and partner at Le Bremner. As the co-hosts of the new Food Network Canada show Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip, Hughes and Smiles are venturing across Canada in an RV on a culinary trip. The dynamic duo has travelled from coast and coast, and also explored the Maritimes, where they tapped into their passion for Canadian seafood. While Hughes jokingly told us that the “answer is chocolate”, many of their must-have ingredients can actually be found in the water.
Real Style spoke to the two culinary experts about their experience creating dishes in an RV, their signature dishes and their love of cooking.
Episode 2 of Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on Food Network Canada.
Real Style: What can you tell us about your new food adventure, Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip?
Chuck: We got into an RV and we left it all behind for a six week trip across the country. We went to Salt Spring Island; we were in Prince Edward County, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island. Along the way, we met farmers, foragers and chefs who helped us gather ingredients. Every episode finishes off with a great feast, where we cook for all the people who have helped us along the way. The whole thing is about food, travel, camping and hanging out with my buddy [Danny].
Real Style: Tell us more about the challenges of cooking in an RV!
Danny: The challenges were definitely cooking a feast for 12-20 people out of an RV and using an open flame. On the first episode, we did a 43-pound roast. It’s on for four hours, just got to play the waiting game. The challenges are that you’re outdoors, it might rain, the sun is going to set. There are all these things that you don’t really think about when you’re working in your kitchen. A lot of the people who join the feast are people who showcase their food, so there was a lot of stress that way, but it came through.
Real Style: What inspired your passion for the culinary arts?
Chuck: I think it started with a passion for eating. Both of us are really inspired by our families and our moms to cook at a young age. I never really thought of anything more than that. It turned into my first job, and then a profession. Here we are now, 25 years later, and I’m still washing dishes- and loving it!
Real Style: Do you have any favourite ingredients?
Chuck: I like seafood in general. I feel when you have really good quality Canadian seafood; you don’t really need to do much to it. It’s just some of the best in the world. It also has this kind of briny, salty quality to it, that you don’t have to season much. You can use the natural flavours of the ocean to your benefit.
Danny: I like a lot of cheese. Cheese is great. You can use it in different ways. I love that, seafood as well and definitely a lot of fish. We are definitely ocean-oriented at both restaurants back home. A great olive oil is always something that you need, in the pantry.
Real Style: Chuck, you’re the executive chef of Garde Manger and Le Bremner. What can you tell us about your restaurant experiences?
Chuck: They are two small, 60-seat restaurants in Montreal, focused on mostly really simple, good food. We concentrate mainly on Canadian seafood, and a little bit of everything else. Our real passion in both restaurants is fish and seafood. My first restaurant, Garde Manger, is in its 11th year and then our sixth year at Le Bremner. Danny became a partner at Le Bremner last year, and has been a big part of our restaurant success since the beginning. You’re only as good as your last dish, so we’re lucky we have amazing teams in both restaurants.
Real Style: What are your signature dishes?
Chuck: I think for a chef, to have a signature dish is a tough question to answer. On one, you don’t want to be associated necessarily with just one thing that you think you might do well. On the other side, you’ve got to commit to owning up to certain things. For me, if there’s anything that would represent me and my style of cooking, it would be a seafood platter. Maybe a perfectly shucked oyster with a bit of lemon and cocktail sauce or mignonette sauce.
Photos: Food Network Canada