Montrealer Carolanne Rivard was working at a promotional event to kick-off the Grand Prix of Canada festivities at Buonanotte Tuesday, June 4, 2013.
Photograph by: John Kenney, John Kenney
MONTREAL — They’ve flown in the Arctic char, the Veuve Cliquot is chilling, steaks are aged to perfection, the three-pound lobsters are waiting and there’s plenty of foie gras.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your appetites and ready your wallets, because the Grand Prix restaurant extravaganza is upon us.
Food purveyors have been happily filling orders for the high-end restos, and restaurateurs have been carefully paring down their menus and hiring extra staff for the week one owner estimates accounts for 20 per cent of his entire year.
“This is like summer’s New Year’s Eve for us, and all the higher-end products like lobster, truffles and foie gras, for this week there’s a market for it,” Buonanotte owner Massimo Lecas said.
“And it’s not just out-of-towners, Montrealers themselves want to be out there on F1 weekend.”
The Buonanotte dining space increases by 50 per cent with the street terrace it adds once St-Laurent Blvd. is closed off to traffic.
“That’s 245 extra seats Thursday through Sunday,” Lecas said. “We add a second kitchen on the patio, a grill, to serve the extra customers.”
Reducing the number of items on the regular menu allows the chefs to concentrate on a Formula One menu oriented to seafood and steaks, items that do well on a grill.
And, Lecas firmly points out, restaurants like his do not raise the price of wines during Grand Prix week.
“It’s a myth that a $40 bottle of wine becomes a $60 bottle of wine; it’s just that we add more luxurious items that week that the clientele want,” so there are more expensive bottles added to the wine list to accommodate the demands of the throngs.
Lecas said the Montreal Grand Prix is a favourite with those who follow the races because the track is mere kilometres from a world-class city with world-class entertainment and food.
“Other races are off in the country, there’s nowhere for the drivers, the crews and the spectators to go. And Monaco? That’s about the size of Nuns’ Island, it’s tiny.”
Many of Buonanotte’s Grand Prix clients are corporate parties that reserve year after year. And no doubt about it, this is a man’s game, with an estimated 80 per cent of the clients being males.
“A lot of companies treat their customers to a night out on that weekend. For example, all the sponsors of Ferrari, like Rolex, Veuve Cliquot, Tag Heuer, they’re only here in Montreal once a year, so they get together,” Lecas said.
Grand Prix is like a big convention with glitz, glamour and beauty, he added.
Across St-Laurent Blvd. at the equally swish Globe restaurant, executive chef Jean-François Baril is psyched up for the intense pressure that comes from cooking four times the amount of meals he normally produces on a busy Friday and Saturday night.
“In fact, the pressure starts weeks before when we try to source the fancier products and our suppliers have the quantities we need,” he said.
“But the intensity makes a cook happy, we live for that challenge.”
Co-owner Roberto Pesut takes on “alumni,” or former staff, for the week, about 30 of them, waiters and waitresses who know the drill and the way the kitchen and dining room work.
“We need the experience, they need the cash,” Pesut said.
Normally the Globe kitchen turns out 150 covers on a Friday and Saturday night. Bolstered by their own streetside terrace, the kitchen will turn out 600 to 700 covers on Friday and Saturday night of Grand Prix.
“For sure, we simplify the menu and pare it down to the staples,” Pesut said. “Meats and seafood are winners here, representing 60 per cent of the orders. The other 40 per cent are add-ons, things we do special for Grand Prix, like pasta with lobster, and I special order three Alaskan king crab. One of those retailing at $900 serves four.
“I would never take a chance with an item like that except at Grand Prix.”
The work is not done once the last customer leaves the restaurant, both Lecas and Pesut maintain, as there is inventory to take, cleaning to do, prep work and more ordering of the items that are selling briskly.
“Between Wednesday and Monday morning, I might sleep 10 hours total,” Pesut said.
Said Lecas: “Personally, I work 20 hours a day for four days and I only go home for catnaps and to take a shower.”
With St-Laurent closed to traffic from Sherbrooke St. to Pine Ave. since Wednesday night, there will be lots of people-watching and strolling for those who might not have the budget for lobster and Champagne.
“But come for a pizza and a beer, we have that too,” Lecas said.
As for star power, after last year’s race the likes of hockey player P.K. Subban, and singers Rhianna and Drake were spotted at Buonanotte in the lounge, where a discreet motorized screen closes off the room to gawkers.
“This year, I guess everyone will be on the lookout for the Rolling Stones,” Lecas said of the legendary rock band playing the Bell Centre Sunday night.
“Grand Prix is more than just money in our pockets; it’s a chance to send a postcard about our city,” Pesut said. “It still gives us an edge to show the rest of the world how we look.”
Said Baril: “This is the weekend the whole world wants to be in Montreal.”
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