Richard Bastien, from caterpillar to Monarque

Richard Bastien is living proof that consistency and rigour pay off in the restaurant industry. Bastien is chef-owner of Le Mitoyen and partner, with his son, at Monarque. Over the years, the latter has established itself as a pillar of Quebec gastronomy. Skillfully combining local foods and traditional French cuisine, the self-taught chef has brought each of the addresses with which he is associated to the top of the province’s best restaurant lists.

Son of a market gardener and a farmer

The youngest of five children, Richard Bastien was born in Sainte-Dorothée into a family of market gardeners. From the production of vegetables to the slaughter of animals, he remembers canning sessions with his mother and storing salted bacon with his father. Ready-to-eat meals were completely unknown to him. He is clear that “everything at home was homemade”; his youthful culinary memories are lulled between the comforting smell of vegetable soup and the flavours of his mother’s blood sausage. A recipe for blood sausage that inspires him and is now on the menu of each of his establishments.

This is how Richard Bastien discovered his love for fresh and local Quebecois products. He describes himself as a child spoiled by the farm: “Neighbours and passers-by were amused to see me, every summer, accompanied by my little sheep that followed me everywhere like a dog. At the beginning of the school year, the lamb would disappear, I understood why… The following summer I had a new goat as a companion”.

The young self-taught chef

Infused with a love and curiosity for food, Richard Bastien began cooking in an experimental manner at a very young age. For example, he asked his grandmother if she knew of the existence of chervil, tarragon, or Jerusalem artichokes; foods that grew naturally here but were ignored by the farmers of the time. In short, he is instinctive, passionate, and self-taught. The chef even confessed to having cooked his first lobster without ever having eaten one before!

One thing led to another, and he built up his reputation as a chef. In 1977, at the age of 25, he opened his first restaurant, Le Mitoyen; in partnership with Carole Léger, the mother of his children. The couple bought an ancestral house built in 1870 by a retired farmer in the heart of the village of Sainte-Dorothée. Interestingly enough, real estate developers were planning to demolish the house! Living on the upper floor, the young visionaries established the dining room of the famous restaurant on the first floor. It was an instant success. Offering blood sausage, duck, and sweetbreads, Le Mitoyen’s menu quickly distinguished itself by offering proteins that had been overlooked by Quebec restaurateurs at the time. Everything is accompanied and garnished with vegetables and fine herbs that are just as avant-garde.

In February 1979, the chef left for France in search of new flavours and techniques. Armed with enthusiasm and a bag on his back, Richard Bastien ate at the tables of Alain Chapel, Alain Senderens, and the Troisgros brothers. He would return from this epic journey more inspired than ever and especially motivated by the confirmation that what he had instinctively developed at Sainte-Dorothée was also being done by these icons of French gastronomy.

The rise of a great chef

A few years later, a joyous event changed the life of the restaurateur. Jean-Claude Poitras, a famous fashion designer, went to eat at Le Mitoyen accompanied by the great journalist Iona Monahan. Monahan wrote a portrait on the designer. A few days later, The Gazette published a photo of Poitras at Le Mitoyen. This was the beginning of the recognition of Richard Bastien’s career. At the age of 28, he received the Roger Champoux Award for Exceptional Merit in Cooking from the Fondation des amis de l’art culinaire. At the time, overcome with impostor syndrome, the chef had only one phrase in mind: “I can’t back down anymore…”.

In the following years, Le Mitoyen was a huge success. Even today, 45 years after its opening, the restaurant is full almost every night.

At one point, Richard Bastien felt that he could no longer limit himself to this establishment; he felt cramped, he was thirsty for new projects, he had to create!

In the 90’s, he was approached by the management of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to rethink and modernize the Café des beaux-arts, a challenge he took up with brio until its closing in 2015.

In 2001, he opened the famous Leméac with his partner Émile Saine. An address reminiscent of the trendy bistros of Paris, and one that is known and cherished by Montreal foodies. The consistency of the menu, the quality of the service, and the sumptuous decor signed by Luc Laporte make the establishment a must in the gastronomic heritage of the city.

The Bastien’s

The apple never falls far from the tree, and Richard Bastien’s son Jérémie is also very talented in the kitchen. Inspired by his father, he began a successful career in the restaurant business.

For more than 10 years, the father-son team has been on a mission to travel the world and taste the best food there is. Behind this quest was a precise objective: to be inspired to open the restaurant of their dreams in Montreal.

Monarque opened its doors in September 2018. It is, according to Richard Bastien, the restaurant that will ensure the continuity of the Bastiens. The name of the restaurant was carefully chosen. This butterfly, making its migration over several generations, symbolizes the father-son handover at the heart of this project. Jérémie Bastien is the sole chef and owner of the establishment. However, the chef of Le Mitoyen is involved in every mechanism of the complex machinery of the establishment. Openly inspired by the Gramercy Tavern in New York, Richard and Jérémie Bastien, in collaboration with architect Alain Carle, designed Monarque. The Old Port restaurant quickly made its name in the Montreal restaurant world. The address offers a double experience; a brasserie style menu and a dining room menu.

A visionary chef

Great minds don’t take time off, and Richard Bastien is currently placing another piece on the Quebec restaurant scene. His next project: Les Jardins Bastien.

The chef is currently building large greenhouses based on permaculture principles on the land of his ancestors, precisely on Bastien Street in Sainte-Dorothée de Laval. The ultimate goal is to make his restaurants self-sufficient in farm products, all while respecting the environment. The dream!

Richard Bastien is a lover of local flavours and passionate about French gastronomy. His passion for good things has led him to bequeath to us the jewels of an institution: Le Mitoyen, Leméac, and Monarque.

By saving the ancestral house of a farmer in Sainte Dorothée to open Le Mitoyen, Richard Bastien probably did not know that he had just given himself the chance of a lifetime. That of participating in the creation of the restaurant of his dreams that is Monarque.

As the saying goes… You reap what you sow.

Interview held at Café DAX

From the magazine