A couple of months ago I wrote my first article for a series I called "Discover 5 Women Chefs in Montreal." My purpose is to profile 5 amazing women that have succeeded in an industry where usually men dominate. They have touched our hearts through their food and wonderful service. I want to praise them for doing so which such courage and passion! The #girlboss of this month is Emma Cardarelli, executive chef, and co-owner at renowned restaurant Nora Gray (2011) and new restaurant Elena (2018).
Right after graduating University, Emma went out West to work at a back-country lodge for the summer and she was given two options for a job: maid or cook. Her response? “Well, I don’t really want to clean toilettes for the summer so… cooking it is.”
When she came back to Montreal at the end of that summer, she enrolled at ITHQ where she got her training. One of her teachers recommended her for an internship with David McMillan from Joe Beef, but the same day Emma was starting at Globe, Dave was actually leaving to work on a different project. That’s when Frédéric Morin (Joe Beef) took up on the kitchen and became Emma’s mentor from that time on.
Where are you from and where have you been?
I am from Montreal. I’ve lived here my whole life, except for when I was between 18 and 22 years old because I was in Halifax studying.
I’ve been mostly to Europe. My parents were born in England, so I’ve been there several times, and I also worked there for a little bit. Also Italy, I’ve been to Italy a bunch of times!
What have you learned from the places you’ve visited around the world, and how have they affected your personal style?
From Italy I learned simplicity: there are not a lot of components to the dishes and the food is just simple and delicious.
When I was in England, I was working at a one Michelin star restaurant and I learned more classical French techniques. I also learned a little bit about the molecular style of cuisine.
It's impossible not to incorporate other things and ideas you’ve seen at other places, and I am constantly still trying to learn new techniques to incorporate them into my own style. Just this winter, right after opening Elena, I went to Phoenix, Arizona. I specifically went to visit a pizza place down there called Pizzeria Bianco, and I hung out with the chef for a couple of days just to try to learn a little bit about his business and how it functions.
In a few words, what’s your approach to food?
Definitely Nora Gray is a higher end restaurant and Elena is more casual, I mean it’s a pizza place and that’s the point of it. But with food, simplicity is always my goal. I always try to not over complicate things and not put too many ingredients on a dish. It’s important for me that the ingredients kind of speak for themselves because we try to get the best ingredients possible, so if I’m getting the best ingredients they shouldn’t need a lot of effort to make them taste good…they already taste good.
What do you love about Elena?
I love that it is very airy because of its very tall ceilings and the light that comes in. It is definitely much bigger than Nora Gray, which gives it a kind of buzz. We are open 7 days a week and we have different teams working different schedules, but in the end, there’s still a sense of family.
Have you ever worked for a female chef?
Yes! The one that I worked for that time at the back-country lodge. She was the one who advised me to take a course at ITHQ. She was a very thoughtful woman who really cared about food a lot and made beautiful simple food.
What is your favorite ingredient?
I want to say pasta, but that doesn’t count as an ingredient, so I will say: flour.
What would your last meal be?
Oh! My dad’s lasagna.
If you wouldn't work in Montreal, where would you like to work?
I would like to work in California, in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The products and the quality they have access to is just something we don’t really get here, so definitely California.
The best food is in (NAME A CITY OR A COUNTRY)?
Montreal! I think Montreal is really up there in the food scene.
A chef you admire or look up to?
I’ve always looked up to Fred, I’ve always had a close relationship with him.
I also had the fortune of meeting Jaques Pepin last year, I used to watch his TV shows when I was younger and I realized that time when I met him, how much of an impact he has been to my professional life.
What did you have for dinner last night?
Haha! A cheeseburger and poutine.
Place you eat most often in days off?
Larry’s corner Fairmount and St-Laurent.
“Bicicleta.” It’s like an Aperol Spritz but instead of having Aperol it has Campari.
Someone you would love to cook for?
My grandma. She taught my dad to cook and my dad taught me. We named Nora Gray after her.
What are you most excited about right now?
It’s the beginning of summer, so right now I am excited about all the Quebec products that will become available. There are too many things that are produced in Quebec that are really amazing.
When you are not working in the kitchen, what do you like to do?
I love gardening, I have a very small garden in my backyard.