Chatting with chef and owner of Tête Carrée, Josh Lauridsen, who is sitting back behind his stall at Jean-Talon Market, I can’t help but to laugh at the irony of it all. Two Anglo transplants to Montreal, talking, or should I say, screaming, about food over the overwhelming noise of a jackhammer pounding into cement.
“They’re doing construction,” he says, pointing out the obvious. “Hopefully, they get it done by the time tourist season is in full swing.”
It’s a rainy Monday so the market is quiet, but come July, it will be bustling with visitors and locals alike. However, as Lauridsen describes, in recent years Jean-Talon has become more of a sightseeing attraction than it is a true destination for great eats. With most vendors focusing on supplying fruits and vegetables for restaurants, or to take home and cook for yourself, Lauridsen saw his window of opportunity to open up a food stall where people could grab a bite to eat at the market, rather than having to seek out a nearby Little Italy restaurant instead.
When he applied, the waiting list was over 60 vendors long, but with a bit of luck and a resume that includes working as chef de cuisine at Chuck Hughes’ Garde Manger, he made it to the top of the list and was ready to open in summer 2016. Born in Ontario and having spent time in the Maritimes before coming to Montreal nine years ago, Lauridsen got the nickname “Tête Carrée” (translated as “square head” and often used as a derogatory term to refer to English speakers in Quebec) as an Anglo working in the city’s French kitchens. Rather than taking offense, he embraced it, enough so to name his business after the slang.
Lauridsen’s menu at Tête Carrée is equally inspired by his travels and the local bounty that the market offers. After all, how could it not when your groceries are right at your doorstep? He even grows some of his own herbs and has a hanging strawberry plant that may prove to be fruitful if people don’t walk by and snatch the berries for themselves, as Lauridsen reports having happened recently. Using his house-made flatbread as the canvas, he currently tops it with vibrant spring ingredients like fresh asparagus, nestled into a bed of (also house-made) ricotta. “I want it to be simple enough that people get excited to try and make it at home,” Lauridsen says, although he notes that they tend to come back commenting that their own versions lack the je ne sais quoi of a chef’s deft hand.
It’s not all about flatbreads though, although even if it was, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Lauridsen also offers a seasonal cold soup with ingredients sourced from the organic farm that happens to be his neighbour at the market. He also makes some killer jerk potatoes topped with a garlic sauce that is good enough to drink through a straw on its own. Wash it all down with Lauridsen’s flavoured lemonade. It’s currently made with rhubarb--which is a labour of love to juice as I watch him push through stalk after stalk--and will switch to strawberries once they come into season. Having drunk a glass each and every time I’ve visited the market in the past three weeks, it gets my seal of approval as a certified rhubarb junkie. It’s good enough to warrant having a pitcher in your own fridge for whenever the craving for a refreshing beverage hits.
Aside from running the stall Thursday through Monday, Lauridsen also does catering. “Essentially, we like to offer bite-sized versions of everything we do at the market,” he explains. That being said, it is personalized for each and every client, so whether you want a seven-course meal cooked in your home, or a stand-up cocktail party or reception, you can customize the food for your event.
As for how life outside traditional kitchens is treating him thus far, Lauridsen admits that it’s not drastically different from a cooking perspective at least. “Having to work at the front though my French has had to go on a pretty fast incline. Seventy per cent of the people are Quebecois so not speaking French would mean I would lose all that clientele. The 30 per cent of English speakers wouldn’t make up for it.” Not bad for a tête carrée who, at the start of only his second season at Jean-Talon, is helping to put the market back on the map as not just a place to snap pretty Instagram photos of fresh produce, but a culinary destination in and of itself.