Martin Picard, chef, restaurateur (born 20 November 1966 in Repentigny, QC).
Martin Picard, chef, restaurateur (born 20 November 1966 in Repentigny, QC). Star of the Food Network Canada’s The Wild Chef and the 2012 recipient of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards’ Cookbook of the Year, Martin Picard has both elevated and re-invented Québécois cuisine and ingredients, and has long been regarded as the renegade or enfant terrible of Canadian cuisine.
Born in a suburb north of Montréal, Picard says his favourite food memory was tasting maple taffy frozen on snow after a meal at a sugar shack. In 1969, when Picard was three years old, his father moved the family of six to Morocco for three years, where he worked as a math teacher. The family had a garden planted with lemon, orange and quince trees and herbs such as rosemary and thyme. These new flavours, combined with the experience of trying mint tea and eating local dishes such as couscous and roast lamb, broadened his young palette.
When he was 20 years old, Picard enrolled “on a whim” in the food service management program of the Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Québec. His plan was to be the CEO of the Ritz Carlton. In 1988, as part of his degree, he interned at Hotel Radio in Chamalières, France, where he tried his hand at food preparation and cooking in the kitchen. To his surprise, he discovered his love for the camaraderie and energy of working in a kitchen, which inspired him to become a chef and restaurateur.
Back in Québec, he made up his mind to learn from the best chefs in the world. From 1989 to 1993 he honed his skills at Citrus in Montréal under the watchful eye of Normand Laprise. During this period, he took time off to do brief internships with top chefs, including Marc Meneau at l’Espérance in Burgundy, France, Michel Trama at Relais & Châteaux in Puymirol, France, and famed Parisian chef Pierre Gagnaire, at his Michelin-star restaurant in Paris. When Laprise became owner of Toqué! in Montréal in 1993, Picard went with him, rising to the position of sous-chef at a restaurant that won accolades for inventing locally-sourced Québec cuisine.
That same year, he met Elena Faita, an amateur Italian cook and businesswoman who Picard says was a major influence. Faita’s celebration of rustic Italian cooking traditions gave Picard the idea to breathe new life into his own culinary heritage — the tourtières, poutines and sugar pies of the Québécois table. Today Picard is one of the teachers at Faita’s cooking school, Mezza Luna.
From 1994–1996 he won critical acclaim for his work as the executive chef at Le Globe in Montréal, and in 1996, did another apprenticeship with Daniel Boulud in New York. The accolades continued when Picard took the head chef job at Le Club des Pins from 1997–2000. When the restaurant sold in early 2000, the 33-year-old Picard found himself unemployed.
On his own
His wife, Nancy, and friends and family encouraged Picard to find the funds to open his own restaurant. In November 2001, Au Pied de Cochon opened its doors in Mont Royal’s Plateau district. It quickly became famous for Picard’s rich and original fare, such as foie gras poutine and duck-in-a-can, which combined high-and-low ingredients and techniques into mouth-watering combinations served in heaping portions. A rowdy hotspot with a tightly-knit kitchen brigade, the restaurant soon became an institution, and Picard’s reputation as a bawdy, carnivorous, outspoken chef blossomed.
An episode of the TV show No Reservations, which aired in April 2006, brought the world spotlight on Picard when Anthony Bourdain ate his way through more than ten dishes featuring foie gras. Bourdain called Au Pied de Cochon “a temple to all things fatty, porky and duck-related,” and has named Picard as “one of the five or six classic figures in culinary history.”
Television and Books
In October 2006, Picard self-published Au Pied de Cochon — The Album. The collaborative, family-style album and manifesto (designed by a waiter at the restaurant) that highlights staff, recipes and suppliers, has sold over 50,000 copies. The New York Times dubbed it a “publishing phenomenon.”
In 2007, Picard hosted the television series, Martin sur la route, for Radio-Canada and in 2008 he starred in The Wild Chef on Food Network Canada.
The Sugar Shack
In 2008, Picard opened Cabane à Sucre in St. Benoît de Mirabel, 60 kilometres west of Montréal. Housed in a working sugar shack, the restaurant is only open for the “sugaring off” (February to May) and autumn apple seasons. Tickets for both seasons go on sale once a year and sell out in hours. The maple syrup that figures in nearly every dish in inventive ways is made on site by Picard’s uncle. FOOD & WINE magazine included Cabane à Sucre in its list of the world's 100 best restaurants.
In 2012, the chef’s self-published second book, a photographic collaborative tome from the Cabane à Sucre, titled Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack, won Book of the Year at the World Gourmand Awards.
In 2013–2014, Picard hosted another TV series, Un chef à la Cabane, on Télé-Québec.
The chef has said that one of his big dreams is to create a Québécois ham of equal quality to France’s Bayonne or the Spanish pata negra. Not surprisingly, he’d like the pigs to be fed maple syrup.
Dubbed the “wild chef,” and the “enfant terrible” of Canadian cuisine, Picard is often criticized by animal rights activists for his unapologetic celebration and use of foie gras and nose-to-tail eating. In 2011, the chef withdrew as the star of Ottawa’s Winterlude food festival after organizers agreed to pull the foie gras off of Picard’s proposed menu. PETA activists called his recipes for “Squirrel Sushi” and “Confederation Beaver” in his 2012 cookbook “really eerie.” In a culture that pushes healthier eating, the bawdy, iconoclastic chef has vowed to fatten up his fellow Québécois.
Star of Gastronomy Award, 2003, 11th Culinary Gala
Roger Champoux Prize, Foundation Friends of Culinary Arts, 2007
Cookbook of the Year,Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, 2012
Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon, Best Single-Subject Cookbook, Taste Canada Awards, 2013