Guys, it's time to come clean: food is my life. I think you guys could have guessed that at this stage in the game, though, considering that food is one of my all-time favourite things to blog about.
For me, there's nothing on this earth that beats a good meal - except maybe discovering a brand new restaurant that you love. When I first discovered Impasto, I was overjoyed. I had everything I looked for in a restaurant: good, fresh food, a beautiful and friendly atmosphere, and a really unique yet classic menu. I thought that I'd found my all-time fave; but then I discovered Gema.
Gema is definitely in my top 5 favourite restaurants, hands down. I've showed it a lot of love in the past, and for a while I thought that there would be nothing to rival my love for this simple yet amazing pizzeria. But then, I learned about Chez Tousignant.
Chez Tousignant (6956 Rue Drolet), located in Montreal's Little Italy, is a brand new "casse-croute" style establishment. The eatery serves up all your favourite classics, like poutine, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs. And aside from being delicious? The food is made-in house. We're talking homemade hotdogs, homemade buns, homemade frozen custards... the list is long, and very, very good.
This delicious eatery is another hit from the team that blessed us with Impasto and Gema: Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione, along with Chef Yann Turcotte. If you want to know more about Chez Tousignant, check out their website over here.
I was incredibly lucky to be able to chat with Michele Forgione about the restaurant scene in Montreal, the success of his restaurants, and other very interesting topics. As someone who greatly admires Mr. Forgione and his whole team, this was a monumental moment in my life, and I'm super happy to be able to tell you guys to read on for my interview with Michele Forgione.
1. What inspired you to want to open your restaurants, and what made you want to place them all in Little Italy?
- Long story! I met my Partner Stefano Faita 5 years ago while I was head chef in another resto in the city. And opening in front of the family store (Quincaillerie Dante) was a no brainer... He literally grew up in little Italy and the family store has been in existence since 1956! The opening of my restaurants are the reflections is mine and Stefano's youth, travels and upbringing and ultimately the love for all things Italian.
2. What’s it like coming up with a menu? All of your restaurants seem to put contemporary twists on classics. Is it difficult coming up with new dish ideas, or relatively easy?
- I get inspired from my youth in Italy, my travels, other chefs, and whatever is available in season. My style of cooking is simple and approachable and letting the ingredients shine. The twists derive from what's local and then we put (what I like to call it) the spirit of Italian cuisine to it. I have a new chef de cuisine (her name is Aicia Colacci), super talented and we put down ideas and collaborate on the actual menu writing and testing. The whole team gets involved, which is key to a successful enterprise. [...] All 3 restaurants are based on the same values: Communicate, teach and inspire.
3. I know your restaurants continue to be very successful. What, in your own words, do you think makes Impasto/Gema/Chez Tousignant stand out?
- What makes impasto stand out is its sleek, timeless design, the food evokes memories of Italy (meaning portions are just right, everything homemade, clean professional service, beautiful well chosen wine list, rustic but not forced).
- Gema (Giovanni, Emilia, Massimo, Anna) is the acronym of our children's names. Therefore, family, let loose kinda atmosphere - your neighbourhood pizza joint, where you can watch the game, have a good time, wether it be with family, friends, kids etc... Not stuffy, but! The attention to detail on food, drinks, service, respects the same attention to detail [at] Impasto. More laid back, the way a pizzeria should be; again, everything homemade.
- What makes Chez Tousignant stand out is: Well, we have out chef/partner Yann Turcotte (worked in the finest restaurants in Europe, Michelin starred restaurants, Relais Chateaux hotels) and upon his arrival, he wanted to relive his youth of dining in casses-croutes while going to the family cottage. The main stand out is the design!! Real authentic snack bar/casse-croute feel to it. But the food is all homemade, fresh (daily ground beef), homemade all-beef, all natural casings smoked in house, bread made in house, the frozen custard - which is rare in a casse croute.
4. It’s arguably really difficult to find success opening a restaurant in Montreal, but Impasto/Gema/Chez Tousignant seem to be getting better and better. What are some challenges you’ve encountered staying relevant in the Montreal restaurant scene, if any?
- Quality is key Miranda! Not being fussy; keeping it simple; and good, courteous service - not pretentious. Being real! And not following trends. Trends are exactly that: They come and they go, and we are here to stay.
- No challenges! Just by doing those key components you're fine! Work hard, staying true to your convictions, your beliefs and listening to yourself. Life is hard - Nothing is ever easy, but you gotta work hard at it! Like anything else, trying to find the right balance between personal life and professional life... That's tough, Stefano and I both have young families. But same rule always applies: Work hard and make time.
5. Do you have any predictions on what Montreal’s restaurant scene might look like in the future?
- No predictions at all... I honestly only focus on my restaurants, my staff, and their well being. Restaurant scene [is] healthy and vibrant and the future talent is very exciting to see.
6. Have there ever been any funny, touching, or interesting moments that have taken place in any of your restaurants?
- Too many to mention! Seriously. Every single night is a different one, and at any given time any of those emotions can happen!
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7. Do you have any future projects you’d like to talk about?
- At the moment just concentrating on running all 3 restos to their full potential! I am currently writing a cookbook on the history, the food, and culture of Italian Montrealers. Set to come out this fall , I'm co-author with Lynne Faubert.
8. I know Mr. Faita has gained a lot of popularity, especially after his cooking show aired. How, if at all, has this impacted the restaurants?
- Quite a bit, he's got a great and loyal fan base! But Stefano Faita Is definitely one of the hardest working men I know. People just love him because he's real. The way you see him on tv is the way he is in " real " life... Just the best and we're all lucky having him around.
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9. Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Any parting words or comments?
- I'm very fortunate to be surrounded by a young dynamic team. We've got close to 35 employees now and they do an incredible job day in and day out. Without them, it would not be possible to move ahead. I also think Little Italy is one of the most exciting places in Montreal to visit, to go eat; and we're surrounded by some of the best restaurants, coffee shops, the market, DANTE!!