This feel-good winter festival features music, guest chefs, wine and food tastings and outdoor light sculpture, all animated by the city's own conviviality and panache. The program, dozens of concerts and culinary events, is a patchwork of pleasures in a city decked out to dazzle.
Every year, guest chefs come from cities abroad, in North America and regions in Quebec.This year, the festival's 14th, guest chefs will come from Buenos Aires and Philadelphia, as well as the region of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. The honorary presidency of the gastronomy program belongs to chef Francis Mallman, who heads noted Buenos Aires restaurants such as Patagonia sur and who has worked with Paul Bocuse in France. He and 20 colleagues will work together with Montreal and Philadelphia chefs to create special dinners at some 50 restaurants. The highlight is his seven-course dinner at the restaurant Europea with its Relais&Chateaux "Grand Chef" Jerome Ferrer.
Just when you think the Festival is predictable, something else pops up. Perhaps inspired by competitive cooking TV programs, there will be a "Toques des fromages d'ici" competiton, where guests taste and judge creations of participating guests. This year, guests will render their verdicts on 12 culinary creations using Quebec cheeses in three courses. paired with wines.
There will also be cooking classes and wine tastings and lectures on "Spices: from chemistry to pleasure" .
Food is only one part of the Festival. Music and art is the other. This year, in keeping with the Buenos Aires theme, tango, that dance of stylist erotic angst, steps forward. The honorary co-president this year will be Daniel Piazolla, grandson of Argentinian tango composer astor Piazolla. The opening spectacle, La Pista Tango, in the Theatre Maisonneuve, is an exciting mixture of tango and circus, with an artist drawing on a large screen during the performance. At another space, Metropolis, the group will involve the audience in an Argentinian milonga dance.
From there its a smorgasbord of music styles, from indy pop to jazz Diva Diana Krall. The classical menu includes the group I Cellisti at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Alain Lefere at the Maison symphonique de Montreal, and the Theatre of Early Music at the Notre-Dame-de-bon Secours Chapel in Old Montreal.
The recently renovated Quartier des spectacles near the Place des Arts is an outdoor dreamscape for trance music, torches, light sculpture and musical spectacles and characters in illuminated costumes. Of course there are gourmet stopovers.
Montreal hotels, inlcuding the Fairmont, Hyatt Regency and Sheraton Montreal have joined the festival by offering package deals that include tickets. Many of the cultural and restaurant events fill up so it's wise to book early.