Black-owned restaurateurs in Montreal making space in the culinary scene
More and more Black-owned restaurants and culinary experiences have begun to dot the landscape of the city's culinary scene, but more is needed to help their communities' gastronomic enterprises thrive.
The organization Desta has been a valuable resource in Montreal's Little Burgundy neighbourhood for the past 16 years, having seen hundreds of young Black people successfully enter the workforce through its employability program.
The program now has its sights set on the culinary industry.
Gytana Theobrun taps into her heritage to spice up every Afro-vegan dish she prepares.
"We have a tendency to have just a regular vegan food restaurant, but it's missing that little spice flavour that we Black bring," said the woman, also known as Chef T.
She wanted to start her own catering company, but not knowing the first thing about running a business, she turned to the Desta Black Community Network for help.
"For us here, it's difficult, you know, to find something, especially in business with a business mindset to help us out," she said. "And that's what DESTA was offering."
Chef Paul Toussaint is the owner of Kamuy, a hip pan-Caribbean restaurant in Montreal. He knows Black and ethnic restaurant owners need financial support to not only start, but also expand their operations.
"We need finance," he said. "We need [that] sometimes to go big because we have things to share. We have experiences for people."
Desta supports 18 to 35 year olds in Montreal's English-speaking Black community.
"So we're looking at different aspects of society that are just really important to level the playing field so that the Black community can thrive," said Desta executive director Kassandra Kernisan.
Theobrun is part of Desta's chef incubator program, a six-month mentorship that gives participants a chance to learn and grow. For example, they use a professional-grade kitchen to encourage more Black chefs to enter the industry.
"Encouraging diversity, you're really just adding to the richness of society, adding to to the richness of everything that we have to offer," said Kernisan.
The program also feeds the community with participants taking turns to prepare meals for Desta's delivery program that helps 258 people weekly.
"This is more than just food. It's sharing. It's helping our community, and this program really, really brought that to me," said Theobrun.
Theobrun added that she wouldn't be where she is today without Desta's guidance.
'COME EAT OUR STORY'
Black-owned restaurants continue to add to Montreal's culinary mosaic, but often aren't as recognized as part of Quebec cuisine as European or other mainstream food stops.
Toussaint said that aside from a handful of places, the majority of the Black-owned places are smaller operations that serve take out.
"This is the way we are more respresented in town. But when we think about more upscale restaurant where you can have a big party like other restaurants, it's very, very limited," he said.
Chef Paul Toussaint owns Kamuy, a pan-Caribbean restaurant that is one of Montreal's growing number of Black-owned joints in the city. SOURCE: Paul Touissaint.
Though small, those restaurants come with stories that Toussaint encourages patrons to learn while dining because the owners, chefs and staff at the restaurant have two jobs: to teach and to reach out and welcome.
"We have two jobs to do," said Toussaint. "Caribbean or ethnic people, we don't create cuisine to create dishes. We share a story. What we have to ask people is to come eat our story, come share our story with us."
That story, he said, goes two ways.
"I'm not going to destroy my flavours and my culture, but what I'm going to do, I'm going to meet them along the way," he said.
Toussaint grew up in Haiti and moved to Montreal when he was 20. He feels a duty to show the best of his country to Quebecers.
"As a Black people, it's my job to talk, to share the message, to share the knowledge and let people know who we are because they're not going to know it if no one takes the lead to do it."
BLACK-OWNED RESTOS IN MONTREAL
The following is a sampling of Black-owned restaurants in the Montreal area:
- Bistro Nola, DDO, Southern Creole
- Boom J's Cuisine, Charlevoix, Jamaican
- Caribbean Curry House, Cote-des-Neiges, Curry
- Lloydie's, Multiple locations, Jamaican
- Kamuy, Place des Arts, Caribbean/Haitian
- Kwizinn, Verdun, Haitian
- Mango Bay, Downtown, Caribbean
- Maquis Yasolo, Saint-Henri, West African
- Marche Meli-Melo, Villeray, African/Caribbean/West Indian
- Palme, Gay Village, Caribbean
- Piklìz Comptoir Caribeen, Saint-Henri, Caribbean/Haitian
- Shandmas, Hochelaga, Haitian
- Steve Anna, Villeray, Haitian
- Tropico Creole, Cartierville, Caribbean/Haitian
- Tropikal Restobar, Little Burgundy, Caribbean
- TSAK-TSAK, Mile-Ex, Madagascan
- Le Virunga, Plateau/Mont-Royal, African
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