In his wicker sunhat and black chef’s jacket, Chef Frédéric Chamand of Marmite Su’l Feu! is a familiar figure for Marché Atwater and St-Jacques shoppers.
For the last year, scores of hungry Montrealers have been let in on the secret of Réunion Island’s authentic cuisine, which Chamand lovingly ladles out of his giant cast-iron pots. With fresh ingredients and unique, imported spices that are ground and mixed in-house, it’s little wonder why this small food stall has garnered so many fans.
As we sit down to talk in front of his stall on a cold October day, I can’t stop rubbing my hands together. Chamand, who comes from much warmer climes, seems completely unfazed by the weather; he speaks in rapid-fire French, his passion for good food and great ingredients is palpable, and his high energy unstoppable.
“We cook every kind of meat: beef, pork, octopus, rabbit, goat with massale,” Chamand told me through his right-hand man and sous chef, Christophe FSN, who said his last name would be too complicated to write down. “We make all of our spice mixtures, all using ingredients from Réunion Island.”
Though he is relatively new to Montreal’s food scene, Chef Chamand is no stranger to professional kitchens, with over twenty years in the restaurant business. He came to Quebec in 2007, first settling in Saint-Sauveur. When he moved to Montreal last year, he was anxious to open up his own place, and applied for a stall at Atwater.
“There was an opportunity at the right time, and we jumped on it right away,” Chamand said. Marmite Su’l Feu! was chosen out of many applicants, and Chamand soon began to dole out affordable, authentic, and mostly gluten-free Réunion Island cuisine to Montrealers.
Now, as he prepares for the opening of his new restaurant and production facility in St. Henri, he couldn’t be more excited.
On the day of my visit, the proteins on offer included chicken, rabbit, beef, sausage and pork (Marmite Su’l Feu! changes its proteins regularly, though there is always a vegetarian option). A fellow diner remarked that the rabbit was juicy, and much more flavourful than expected. It was marinated and cooked in earthy, warm, deep spices.
The vegetarian platter included cauliflower, green beans, cabbage and onions cooked in a spicy, yellow mix. Topped with homemade carrot and cabbage pickles, this was a vibrant, bright and layered meal. Both meals were served with the requisite rice and beans, the Réunion Island standard.
For desert, yam and cassava root are shredded and baked into gluten-free muffins. These sweet and chewy deserts melt in your mouth, leaving behind a deep, earthy flavour that is permeated with butter. They are not to be missed.
There’s more behind Marmite Su’l Feu! than just good, authentic ingredients. Chamand is driven by his desire to “transfer all of my knowledge, my savoir-faire… and maintain the [Réunion Island] traditions for the next generation.” When his sous-chef Christophe gets up to help a customer, Chamand leans in as if to confer a secret. “He is a designer by trade, but this upcoming restaurant is as much his work as mine. He is my right hand man. I am hoping to pass on the torch to him one day.” When Christophe returns, I ask them if they have been working together long; both laugh and say it’s only been six months.
Watching Chamand and Christophe interacting with the clients, it’s clear that theirs is a partnership built to last. Chamand has an easy-going charm, and he goes into detail each time a customer asks about the food on offer today. Undaunted by the cold, people stay and listen. Hugs are exchanged all around. And eventually, the benches fill with customers eating Marmite Su’l Feu’s soulful food.
If you’re a fan of spicy, bold flavours, then you would be well advised to queue in line at the future Marmite Su’l Feu! restaurant on Rue St-Jacques, opening this November. The traiteur and 20-seater restaurant is bound to be packed full of eaters hungry for unique and flavourful home-cooked meals. And if the dedicated following of Marmite’s food stall at Marchés Atwater and St-Jacques is any indication, it’s going to be one hot, friendly place.
Look for the new space after November 9 at 3911 Rue St. Jacques, and like Marmite Su’l Feu! on Facebook for more updates.