Welcome to "Mise en Place" – a series dedicated to telling Chef stories. Mise en place is French for "putting in place", and it is what chefs do every day in the kitchen... but how did they get there? What are the experiences, tastes, and moments that put a chef in their culinary place? That's what we'll uncover together through "Mise en Place".
Meet Chef Paul Toussaint
Born and raised in Jacmel, Haiti, Chef Paul Toussaint moved to Canada at age 20 to study law but found he was not much of an “office guy”. He eventually made his way to work in the kitchen at one of the top restaurants in the world, Toqué, where he honed his craft and learned the ins and outs of fine dining.
After returning to Haiti for several years to help rebuild after the earthquake, Chef Paul was lured back to Canada to take over as Executive Chef of the Montreal restaurant Agrikol. At both Agrikol and his Paul Toussaint location at TimeOut Market, he helped highlight Haitian food.
“I love Haiti, it’s my culture,” says Chef Paul proudly, but he wanted to offer something different when it comes to cuisine, so the idea was born to bring all the Caribbean influences together under one roof, at his new restaurant, Kamúy and then at his second location at TimeOut – Americas BBQ. As an avid art collector, Chef Paul was excited to make an open-air gallery out of his Kamúy restaurant to spotlight Caribbean artists. The atmosphere is enhanced by finely curated music, which is an essential part of the Caribbean experience.
Recently, he's teamed up with the Biergarten Belle Gueule and Aux Quartiers Belle Gueule pub to become the Executive Chef of a gastronomic experience on one of the city’s best terraces. He's also joined the team of chefs who create the meals for the musicians and singers performing at Evenko’s Osheaga, îLESONIQ, and Lasso music festivals.
We asked Chef Paul Toussaint to tell us about the specific moments and experiences that have shaped his culinary journey.
What do you love most about the Montreal food & beverage scene?
The diversity, it’s such a multicultural city. Montreal is one of the few cities where you can travel via food and eat from almost any country or city in the world right here. The love and the passion of the people in the scene. They all do it for love, not money. They are proud to showcase their own culture and its food. They're not opening restaurants just because a certain flavour is the current trend, they’re doing it because they truly want to show off authentic food from their culture.
What originally brought you into the kitchen? How did you learn to cook?
My nanny Sonia Gabriel showed me how to cook. On Saturdays she would clean, cook and take care of the house. She said if I helped her, she could get more done. She wanted to teach me to be able to take care of myself. She gave me my passion and love for food. Sonia is an amazing cook. When she cooks a meal, it’s the best!
What is your favourite cooking memory from growing up?
I would get together with my cousins and try to cook in the backyard – I was 6 years old, we were all very young. It wasn’t necessarily good and it wasn’t always edible, but it was the fun of trying that stands out in my mind.
The cooking world is so demanding. What are the things you enjoy most about the cooking community?
It’s my team. I always want to show them how easy it is, that it’s not hard to cook. Teach them new skills and techniques to help them cook better. When you have great ingredients, you want them to be tasty and presented with love and respect.
What is one of your all-time favourite dining experiences?
One of my all-time favourite dining experiences took place during 2018 in Haiti, where I’m from. I was with the Kanpe Foundation, which brings support to the underserved rural communities in Haiti to help them achieve autonomy. Myself and the staff from the hotel restaurant where I was working at the time traveled to a private beach. We cooked a meal for 20 people from the Foundation right on the beach - lobster, grilled vegetables, breadfruit, etc.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Opening my first restaurant Kamúy and seeing it flourish even though it opened in August 2020 during the pandemic! Being able to show off my culture and food to the city via Kamúy. Now my young son is there all the time to see what we’re doing and he’s learning how to cook while spending time with me.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring cook?
Be passionate. If you want to cook, put love into it whether you’re cooking at home or it’s your career. If you are feeding your family, you want them to be happy. And if you’re feeding a client, you want them to be happy. For the client – this may be the only moment in the week they have to enjoy, so make it special and memorable.
In your words, what makes an excellent knife?
The ease and ability to use it, the perfect weight, the way it feels in your hand. The sharpness – some knives are hard to sharpen. A sharp knife is much easier to work with.
And, we have to ask, what's your favorite knife?
The WÜSTHOF chef’s knife. It is an all-purpose knife that can be used for everything. Other knives are good for certain, specific tasks but can’t be used for all types of prep.