Marc-Olivier Frappier: Superb chef and co-owner of Mon Lapin

Marc-Olivier Frappier Joe beef Vin papillon Mon Lapin

Marc-Olivier Frappier was the former executive chef of Joe Beef, Liverpool House, and Vin Papillon, and is also the co-owner of Vin Papillon, Mon Lapin and the McKiernan Luncheonette! Here is our profile of a creative, hard-working, and emerging chef.

The beginnings

“The way I got involved in food is not at all romantic. (Laughs) I had a particular family situation and I had to learn to be independent very quickly. I would often watch TV while eating, and I was always watching Josée Di Stasio. She was the one who made me want to learn to cook. With my first babysitting money, I even bought myself her book and a pasta machine!”

Marc-Olivier is from Saint-Hyacinthe. If his encounter with cooking is not romantic, his talent and creativity are undeniable. Marc-Olivier quickly became captivated by cooking techniques. “I was working a lot and I was fascinated by the simplest things: how to make butter, buckwheat pancakes, etc. I decided that this was something I wanted to do. I decided I was interested, and I started cooking for my father, my mother, and then for everyone.”

Marc-Olivier started at the bottom of the ladder. His first job was at Tim Hortons! “I was happy to start in a chain; it teaches you rigour in your work and that’s important. I was 15 when I started, and I quickly learned the importance of a workflow, professionalism, and the hard work that ultimately serves you for life. What you serve to customers is obviously very different, but the routine is ultimately still similar to that of big restaurants.”

After Tim Hortons, Marc-Olivier worked in the popular St-Hubert chain. “It was the first time I was making savoury food and I went nuts!”

Still not quite sure what to do in life, he decided to take an interest in travel and languages. At 17, he left Quebec on his own for Italy. He worked near Bologna; “and as in the spirit of Josée Di Stasio, the people I was living with cooked like crazy! I loved it. At that time, I was enrolled in psychology at Cegep. I cancelled everything and decided to study professional cooking at the ITHQ.

During his studies, Marc-Olivier worked at Il Mulino, later known as Hostaria, located in Little Italy.

“I then went back to work in Italy, in Verona, in a restaurant where the school had placed me. We cooked weird stuff, like pigeon with chocolate, but I still liked it; Italy is just nice.” Marc-Olivier fell even more in love with cooking and perfected his techniques. After this experience, he left for a two-week mini internship at Momofuku in New York, before returning to Montreal.

Joe Beef

In 2008, upon his return, he applied at three places: Unique Trattoria, Café Vespa, and Joe Beef. “I didn’t know Joe Beef, it was small at the time. It’s a good thing they took me in, otherwise my life would have been very different!” (Laughs) Marc-Olivier was hired at Joe Beef and once again started at the bottom. He was there for the closing of the small McKiernan, the expansion of Joe Beef, and then for the opening of Liverpool House. He started as a garde-manger, then quickly moved up to commis, before becoming the restaurant’s chef… at age 23!

“The motto of Joe Beef is ‘everything’s possible’. The company is very much focused on DIY in everything. This school of thought is a great way to learn when you’re an employee. Anyone with any ambitions to open their own restaurant or take a chef position, the opportunity is there. It’s a unique way to work.”

Even today, the restaurant is one of the most popular addresses in town. Marc-Olivier’s favourite Joe Beef dish? “My favourite dish at Joe Beef is probably the sweetbreads. I also love the BBQ. I’ve been working with the guys on the menu at Joe Beef for seven years! It’s just crazy. I also really like the sea urchins, oysters, sturgeon, and smoked eel.”

Vin Papillon

Soon he became very close to Vanya Filipovic, the restaurants’ famous sommelier, and the pair became a couple. “One day, we were going on a roadtrip with Vanya, and we saw the space at Vin Papillon for rent. I immediately called Dave (David McMillan) to see if he knew who had the building. We took the space right away.”

At first, Vin Papillon was going to be a rotisserie with plain wine – “I’ve always liked St. Hubert’s…” (laughs) Eventually, Le Vin Papillon became what it is today, which is small, delicate plates centered around vegetables and natural wine.

“When we opened Vin Papillon I told the guys I wanted to be a partner. It was my commitment through them. What’s really cool about Fred (Morin) and Dave (David McMillan) is that they are great managers. They are able to step back and give the employees who want to continue the lineage the potential and the means to do so. We’re expanding the family with our gang.”

At 24, Marc-Olivier became the chef and co-owner of Vin Papillon. “I was really young, I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from each one of them.” David, Fred and Allison helped a lot in the beginning with the opening of the restaurant. They gave Marc-Olivier and Vanya the chance to take their place and create a restaurant that was a little more like them.

Vin Papillon is a huge success. The critics are glowing, and the customers keep on coming. Here, everything works: the simple and delicious cuisine, the exceptional wines, the service, the festive atmosphere, the decor, and the terrace! “We’re lucky to have a terrace in the back, overlooking a park, it gives a unique and really cool vibe.”

“Le Vin Papillon was my first experience as a co-owner. I learned how to set up systems — the most important thing (!) — I learned how to build a team, start a restaurant, start from scratch, do trial and error. You can have read all the books, but if you’ve never experienced that, it’s something the first time. Plus, we don’t hire anyone from the outside; we do the design, we do the decor, we don’t have a stylist, or menu designer. There’s a lifetime of things to learn.”

His favourite thing about Vin Papillon? “My favourite thing about Vin Papillon is the BBQ in the summer; everything we do there. I love it. Also, the ham, I’ll always eat it.”

Mon Lapin

Marc-Olivier and Vanya live in Little Italy and have always wanted to do something there. “We wanted to open something in our neighbourhood that was inspired by the joie de vivre of Joe Beef and Italian food without being Italian food. We wanted people in the neighbourhood to be able to recognize themselves without being turned off, but pleasantly surprised. I think that what makes our strength is our good food yes, but especially our hospitality, our joy of living, the atmosphere we have in our addresses, we stand out for that.”

Marc-Olivier and Vanya therefore took the lead in designing the Mon Lapin restaurant. “I had a lot of freedom with this project, and I had a lot of fun! Vin Papillon was a bit ‘easy’, because the other restaurants are right next door. If we ran out of anything during a rush, I would just go to another restaurant to get it. Here, we had to learn to be 100% autonomous. We had to learn to work independently of others.”

Once again, the restaurant is incredibly successful and people flock to it. For good reason: a little smaller than the other projects, it is located for the first time in a neighbourhood other than the South West, in Little Italy. The decor is brighter and more colourful than the group’s other projects. We find the same joie de vivre, the same amazing wines and exceptional small plates. It’s one of our favourite spots in town.

What’s next

What’s changed in the daily routine? “I hate the term, but I’ve kind of become the ‘executive chef’ on all the projects. Chef and executive chef, it’s the same thing, but exponential! (Laughs) You’re doing the same tasks, but in a much more intense way. I used to be able to get by a little less organized, but now I’m quicker at doing everything, because I’ve realized the value. We have a lot of people now; in all, we employ 95 people, including about 40 in the kitchen!”

His advice for success? “It’s really important to be in the restaurants every night. When you take this position, you have to be hands on. It’s really a lot of organization, work, and commitment.”

Marc-Olivier has decided to slow down and leave the Joe Beef group. He now ensures the smooth running of Mon Lapin with Vanya. He is also co-owner of the McKiernan Luncheonette project which opened on September 11th in a huge 7,000 square foot space in the southwest of Montreal, in Ville-Émard.

We really like Marc-Olivier because he inspires us with the rigour of his work and his ability to continue learning and improving. He has accomplished a lot, taken risks, gotten involved, and continues to give it his all. He has worked hard for all of his success, and that, we can only have respect for. Congratulations on all of your amazing projects, and we’re very excited for what the future holds!

From the magazine