Kicking off its fourth year in Montreal, LeCHOP features five different restaurants in a six-week challenge lasting from Jan. 4 to Feb. 11. The executive chefs from L’Atelier d’Argentine Vieux-Port, L'Atelier d'Argentine Downtown, Decca77, Newtown, and Wienstein & Gavino’s each compete in a weekly challenge where they must create a dish using a specific ingredient, with limited time. Voting is also open to the public online, where they can select their favourite challenge dish from each week, and potentially win a free dinner for two at one of the participating restaurants. Each dish is then served as part of a special $25, three-course fixed-price menu in each of the restaurants.
The event seeks to attract customers to the participating restaurants during the winter months when businesses typically see a drop in clientele due to the frigid temperatures and consumer overspending during the holiday season. A dinner from the LeCHOP menu at L’Atelier d’Argentine Vieux-Port indeed beats away the winter blues and satisfies taste buds—all without breaking the bank.
Looming tall on a relatively quiet street in the Old Port, L’Atelier d’Argentine Vieux-Port doesn’t look particularly welcoming from the outside. Once inside, however, the atmosphere becomes inviting and cozy, owing in part to a large, modern fireplace and dim lighting. The restaurant’s vibe provides shivering Montrealers with a warm respite from the cold, and a glimpse of what a casual yet convivial meal out in Buenos Aires might resemble—a welcome escape, especially during this time of year.
“[LeCHOP] is a nice way to introduce people to our restaurant and to Argentinian cuisine as a whole […] at an affordable cost to go out to the restaurant in January,” said Jean-Bernard Forgues, Director of Operations of L’Atelier d’Argentine, .
L’Atelier d’Argentine Vieux-Port's LeCHOP menu features a selection of dishes, which seek to represent the Argentinian tastes and traditions while also incorporating seasonal ingredients.
“We wanted to give people an idea not only of what’s seasonal right now, but also of the way Argentinians treat seasonal ingredients in a traditional way,” explained Natalia Machado, Group Executive Chef of L’Atelier d’Argentine.
A creamy seafood chowder, served as an entrée, is hearty and warm—perfect for a cold January night. The addition of chorizo powder and tomato mojo adds pleasant spice to the classic southern Argentinian dish. Empanadas, a staple in many Latin American countries, are also served as an entrée, deliciously combining fontina cheese and caramelized onions to give a new spin on the common Argentinian version.
The special ingredient from the second week’s LeCHOP challenge was scallops. Machado prepared Callos del chubut—pan-seared scallops coated with polenta and served with porcini mushroom cream and potato confit. This dish won the challenge in the second week, and proved to be delicious as a main course on the LeCHOP menu. While the scallops will no longer be available, as they will be replaced by the new week’s challenge dish, customers also can’t go wrong ordering the beef short ribs, which will be available on the menu throughout the LeCHOP event. These are served with smashed potatoes, paprika, rosemary, and garnished with the classic Argentinian chimichurri sauce.
For patrons seeking the quintessential Argentinean experience, L’Atelier d’Argentine allows those ordering from the LeCHOP menu to choose from a variety of different cuts of beef to add to their order, ensuring that carnivorous customers get their fix.
Although adding meat comes at an extra cost, it is worth the splurge.
“We try to stay true to the Argentinian way of grilling [.…]” explained Machado. “In Argentina, we grill [short ribs] and smoke them, and we cook them for long periods of time on the grill, so they have a very different texture,” explained Machado.
This week’s challenge ingredient was maple syrup, which Machado used as a glaze for trout—a fish commonly eaten in Patagonia, where Machado spent her summers as a child. “It’s embracing a very local and traditional ingredient from Canada […] and it’s very common in Argentina to do sweet-and-sour dishes, so the use of maple syrup instead of sugar or honey is something that I think is great,” said Machado.
The trout with maple syrup glaze will be served from Jan. 18 to 24. It is surely worth the visit to L’Atelier d’Argentine Vieux-Port to taste this fusion of traditions, and to experience uniquely Argentine dining right in Montreal.
(Machado's LeCHOP menu is also available at L'Atelier d'Argentine Downtown, located at 1458 Rue Crescent).