Manitoba is a beautiful and creative new restaurant in Montreal that integrates foraging principles with stunning eco-conscious design. Created by Elisabeth Cardin and her business partner Simon Cantin, the restaurant has developed organically from a little shoot of an idea to an elegant space where diners can enjoy an inventive and delicious dish with the peace of mind that the ingredients are locally sourced; many of which even grow in the wild areas around the city. Situated in a converted carpentry studio in the northern Mile End neighbourhood, the design brings together recycled wood and an eclectic array of local recycled furniture to create an ambient space. After just a few short months, the restaurant is already causing quite a stir in the city, inviting the local community to get involved by bringing in wild ingredients to be served up by chef Chris Parasiuk and his team. Response has been huge, and Inhabitat had the privilege to sit down with the core members of Manitoba to talk about their experience, inspiration and ideas about sourcing from the wild.
INHABITAT: Can you tell our readers a bit about how it all began?
Elisabeth: I rented this space a year and a half ago to open a restaurant. I had a few ideas about the menu, in that I knew I wanted wild and foraged ingredients, but I just fell in love with the space itself; it used to be a warehouse. Then I met Simon and I explained the project to him, and so he became part of it.
Simon: I own a construction company, so I take care of the design and decor of the space.
INHABITAT: What inspired the design, and where did you source your materials from?
Simon: We wanted it to be pretty urban; not completely rustic, but we wanted real wood and things that could remind us of the forest. We really wanted to have a long bar, and a kitchen that was open so that people could sit and talk to these guys and see what they were cooking. I had the countertops already—made from wood that I had recycled from houses in Montreal—that we burned and placed on top of concrete. We just recently changed the old garage door to have more glass, and then there is the ceiling, which is made out of scraps.
Chris: When you cut a 2×4, you can take a log and saw off the crusts and the bark to create pieces that are rounded on one side, so we chipped off the bark and hand-sanded each one.
Simon: The design is pretty basic. We knew what kind of spirit we wanted in the place, and we didn’t want to put too much money into fine details. Our goal was to put more work into the food and keep the prices low.
Elisabeth: I found the chairs for 5 bucks! They’re from an old school!
Simon: I think people like the decor, and folks care more about the food they’re eating than the plates they are eating from.
INHABITAT: Could you please tell our readers a bit more about the food?
Elisabeth: I had a lot of ideas about sourcing wild ingredients from the forest, but I’m not a chef! So then I met Chris.
Chris: Elizabeth did a lot of foraging before opening the restaurant so she was very passionate about those sorts of things. I had been working with some foraged items but I had mostly been working with produce from Quebec for the last few years, and was passionate about that. She brought to my attention the abundance of wild, seasonal ingredients that were available as close to home as the back alley, so long as you know what to look for. We read lots of books and went on some foraging trips and we’ve been building our menu with really cool indigenous plants and ingredients.
INHABITAT: Where do you source your ingredients from?
Chris: Sometimes from the back alley, but also from suppliers who forage themselves or as a community. They’ll come to the restaurant and say “this is what we have” and we work out the menu depending on that. But really wherever things are available. So, if anybody reading this has a bunch of wild stuff on their property, bring it here!
INHABITAT: Is there already quite a big community of foragers in Montreal?
Elisabeth: There aren’t as many in the city, but there are groups in every region. It’s becoming more popular. Things like fiddleheads—which most people know and are easy to find—as well as some flowers are becoming more well known. But yes, a lot of people come to us, and there are a lot of groups on Facebook that share information and photos about foraging.
INHABITAT: How did you first get into foraging?
Elisabeth: My first experience was with my grandfather, who taught me about a couple of plants. Then I studied gardening at the botanical garden in Montreal, and I learned a lot from books. After that, I started opening my eyes and realized how much food there was in the forest.
INHABITAT: And what about in the winter?
Chris: You can still get your hands on a lot of dried ingredients. People will pick a lot when the sprouts are young and flavorful and then dry them, so we will be able to have products that are relatively available throughout the winter. Berries that are frozen or dried, for example. We focus less on using these in salads, and more to season game meats.
Elisabeth: I think nature does it well, and when its cold you don’t want a fresh salad; you want warm, spiced dishes. Chris just used myrica gale and wild caraway in a dish. It’s fun to do, and to make jam with the wild berries, but then I can’t wait for the spring to get back to fresh ingredients, and then mushroom season after that.
Chris: We change the menu depending on what we have, adding new dishes and taking some off.
Simon: We should also talk a little about the cocktails, as we have a barman who invents cocktails with our own ingredients, like homemade jam, or lichen dipped in chocolate (that was going with desserts). Oh, and candied tree buds. All the staff is really involved in the whole restaurant, and we also have a spruce beer master. This summer we’ve done one expedition with all the staff to learn how to pick wild ingredients, and next year we will be doing more in both spring and summer.
INHABITAT: What’s on the menu for the future?
Elisabeth: We’re just starting out, but once we know exactly how everything works with the restaurant we’ll be focusing more on the foraging aspect. We’d like to expand upon the foraging, with field trips and videos… but the details are top secret!
Images via Helen Morgan and Manitoba Restaurant