Cook and Date with Chef Joe Mercuri

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Tinder Who?

www.cookanddate.com


I had an unexpectedly magical night the other week at a cooking class geared to 30-40 year old singles in Montreal. Get this-  I’m not single, nor am I in the 30-40 year old age bracket just yet, but the night was still incredible, so I will be sure not to spare any deets!

Cook and Date is a unique service that offers Montrealers the ability to cook and mingle at events hosted by reputable chefs. There are cooking classes designed for different age groups and sexual preferences. You could also check out the menu beforehand to see if it suits you. Chances are if you’re both into the same food…there will be chemistry, right?!?

I was an observer at their most recent event led by Chef Joe Mercuri, and I must admit that I was a bit skeptical. Dating has become so technological and calculated with apps like Tinder and online dating sites, so I wasn’t sure how this would pan out. I was pleasantly surprised to see attendees interacting from the get-go (with a little help from the open bar – YUP!). My faith was restored in humanity as I watched serious sparks fly between some of these singles.

Things really heated up when the cooking began. Chef Joe Mercuri instructed four teams of four on creating a salmon sashimi appetizer with spicy mayo (from scratch), an entrée of mushroom tagliatelle with a white wine sauce, followed by a lesson on cleaning and cooking clams in Mercuri’s famous (million-ingredient) sauce. The night comes to a sweet end with coffee, tea, and dessert.

By the end of the evening the founder of Cook and Date, Cristina, (who has a real sixth sense when it comes to pairing people up) had me saying Tinder who??? So I suggest grabbing a girl or guy friend and signing up asap. Whether you find your soul mate or not (and I heard many stories of people who have!), you are guaranteed a good time, new friends, and to learn a thing or two in the kitchen (which might come in handy if you don’t meet the love of your life). Win-win!

BONUS: Interview with Chef Joe Mercuri

For all of you aspiring chefs out there, here is what a true Montreal talent (owner of Mercuri – an amazing restaurant near the Old Port) has to say about his passion and dedication to his trade.

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So I have been to your restaurant before, but was with a large group of people so took a break from taking photos of my food for the night, and I loved my experience. I will definitely be back to blog about it. My visit made me wonder about your culinary journey. Culinary school?

Yes. At Pearson in Lasalle. Here in Montreal. I am a Montreal chef. I call my cuisine Modern Montreal. Why? I’ve never worked outside of Montreal. What I do, the cuisine I cook, people always ask me – is it French? Is it Italian because your Italian? Is it fusion? – It’s never fusion. It’s me growing up in Montreal. I like to say my heart is smeared on the streets of Montreal. It’s all of the different ethnic backgrounds, I have a big pantry of ingredients, and I have the natural taste buds to mix them.

I love that.

A lot of my dishes have so many ingredients but you’ll never know it. I don’t like to show that it has a lot- it’s all about balance.

Speaking of ingredients –  do you have a favourite that you use every day or in your restaurant?

No.

No favourite ingredients?

Maybe the tomato in-season. In-season the tomato is one of my favourites for sure. But one favourite ingredient…no. It really is the ingredient. When I find that perfect ingredient I fall in love.

Least favourite ingredient?

Not even. I like everything.

So anything that’s fresh and in-season is a favourite ingredient?

I’m very seasonal. really really seasonal. In the summer I go to the market at least 3 times a week.

Which market?

Jean Talon. Lino Birri is like one of my gods. Farmers are my gods-  they’re the people I believe in! So it’s very much Modern Montreal. It’s what I’ve picked up here. I’ve only worked for one chef. I’m a lot self-taught. I’m cooking obsessed. I have thosuands of cookbooks and magazines-  if not more – and I’ve read them all. You could pick one out and tell me anything and I’ll tell you- that’s Gourmet January 1990.

So when did you know you wanted to be a chef?

I’ve always been obsessed with the restaurant business. It’s not just about being a chef, I love the restaurant business. I’ve been in it my whole life- I used to work at a place called Il Fornetto that was very popular and busy. I worked there for about 7-8 years and I’ve always worked in the dining room and I had opened up a café with the owner called Dolce – this is on the Lachine Lakeshore. We needed a chef and couldn’t afford one, so I said to my best friend, you know what? I make sandwich and salads. Come with your girlfriend tomorrow- you taste. We’ve been best friends since we were 5 years old-  now it’s 21 years. So he came for a tasting the next day and said it was amazing. He was like, I’ve known you forever, how could you not know you had this talent? I never thought of it as a profession, but I’ve always loved the cooking aspect of the restaurant business. So slowly I started cooking in that kitchen and the more we’re getting busier, the more I’m falling in love with cooking. Then my brother in-law came with a cookbook that he had bought (because he’s a chef) – the Charlie Trotter cookbook and when I sat down and looked at it, I decided at that moment that I was going to cooking school. This is what I want to do. And that’s how I became a chef.

Amazing. Final question- what is your advice to someone who is considering culinary school?

I think- firstly, everyone has to stop thinking about money. You know, everyone wants to come into the kitchen and make $17 an hour and nobody wants to learn anymore. If you want a chef to give you his time, you really have to be passionate. You have to understand that it’s a different lifestyle. I love the lifestyle. When I started cooking I wanted to work at Mediterraneo for chef Claude Pelletier and there was no position, so I worked Saturday and Sunday free for a year until a position came up. I would go in at 12  and finish at 12 and never asked for a pay and then you know, things happen. So I think you really have to learn your trade. And then it’s going to be about experience. So if someone is giving you the opportunity to get experience in their kitchen – take it. Especially if it’s a good kitchen.

Hard work pays off.

Exactly.
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A huge thank you to the Cook and Date team for giving me a glimpse into one of their wonderful evenings. A special thank you to Chef Joe Mercuri for the cooking lesson, and for being so honest and open about his experiences.

Mind, Taste, Lifestyle.

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