By Neale McDevitt
It was like an all-star game of Montreal cuisine. On Nov. 10, seven of the city’s élite chefs stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen of the Sheraton Centre, each tasked with preparing one course of a seven-course gastronomic delight. In the dining hall, close to 450 hungry patrons, waiting to have their taste buds thrilled at the Gala des Grands Chefs, an annual fundraising event for the Canadian Cancer Society.
Oliver de Volpi, McGill’s Executive Chef, proudly represented McGill. De Volpi was, in effect, this all-star team’s captain, with the C standing for Chef de Brigade. “This is an important event for me for personal reasons. My father had cancer and is now cancer free and my father-in-law died of cancer when he was just 58,” said de Volpi. “It is a cliché, but every family is touched by cancer eventually.”
De Volpi, who works with food providers on campus to develop menus, supervise chefs and plan McGill’s food offerings, admits that, while all are on the same team on the night of the gala, “we’re also competitive – nobody wants to be the guy doing the least interesting thing.”
As on sports teams, that spirit of competition blossoms into some good old-fashioned ribbing in the kitchen. As the team’s leader, de Volpi let the others choose what course they wanted to prepare; as a result, he was left with creating
the sorbet between courses. Despite arriving with 500 hand-carved ice bowls and 40 litres of freshly made orange mint sorbet lightly drizzled with rum, de Volpi had to endure the good-natured barbs of his colleagues. “They laughed and said ‘That’s the best you could do? Five hundred ice bowls? Couldn’t you have made it 500 ice wine glasses?’
“So I just turned around and came back with ‘These people are paying $350 a plate and that’s the size of the fish you’re serving?’ ” said de Volpi with a chuckle.
By evening’s end, diners headed home still savouring each succulent dish and the chefs packed up, content with the knowledge that they had helped raise $150,000 for the Cancer Society. “I love working with these chefs – they’re my friends,” said de Volpi. “Plus we get to show off a little bit and prepare a great menu for a