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Concordia Foodies

From specialty wines to American-style baked goodies, alumni are cooking up new ways to share their passion for food and drink.
May 5, 2015
By Maeve Haldane

The food industry is fickle, tough and, for those who succeed at it, tremendously rewarding. To provide a transporting — albeit fleeting — gastronomic experience requires determination and a profound respect for the value of the vanescent.

The following Concordia graduates have the acumen and good taste to thrive in their businesses — and educate our palates in the process.

Jacqueline Berman Jacqueline Berman in her Rustique Pies bakery. “Concordia gave me a good sense of small business. I really learned a lot about the value of doing research.”

Jacqueline Berman: Easy as pie

Even on a cold day, the warm homey smell of good baking wafts down Notre-Dame St. in Montreal’s St-Henri district. That’s thanks to Jacqueline Berman, BComm 11, co-owner of Rustique Pies, which is, at heart, a country pie stand in the city. With a dozen pie offerings, plus other tasty treats, Rustique has a fervent following for their classic pies like the apple, as well as the renowned lemon meringue, and the addiction-friendly flavours like bonfire (topped with giant homemade marshmallows) and peanut butter cup.

Three years ago, Berman was invited by Ryan Bloom and Tamera Clark to join a business venture inspired by their meeting in the Cayman Islands, where he was developing real estate and she was working as a pastry chef. Berman had been working in marketing for a law firm for a year and a half, was ready for a change — and appreciates the value of dessert.

The trio decided to “pick one thing and do it well,” Berman says. The bakery offers not just traditionally sized pies but also four-inch personal size pies, mini pies and even pies-as-lollipops. Roughly a third of the business is catering for weddings and special events, and they are expanding the space to include a showroom next door. Berman points out that while Montreal boasts fabulous French pastries, there’s a dearth of homemade, American-style treats. “Everything is made here, by hand, on site, every single day,” she says of Rustique. “We peel our apples, juice our lemons. Montreal is a place that understands and appreciates that.”

Rustique exults in the local and seasonal, roasting pumpkins in fall, selling strawberry-rhubarb pie in summer. “Whenever we have access to what Quebec has to offer, we go for it!” she says.

Berman was diagnosed with celiac disease four years ago, so she offers gluten- free options, even if they can’t be advertised as such due to the possibility of cross-contamination with the regular flour dusting around the kitchen. “Our coconut macaroons are seriously the best macaroons you’ve ever eaten,” she swears, and their divine chocolate sparkle cookies are made with almond flour.

People often underestimate the amount of work and challenges that go into starting a business, says Berman, who was 25 when Rustique opened. “We didn’t anticipate how quickly things would take off,” Berman says. It was hard to keep on top of inventory, from ingredients to packaging to take-away cups. They aim to be as environmentally friendly as possible in the packaging, too, while maintaining the integrity of the product.

Despite the amount of work, Berman sees the reward. “You can learn a lot more as an entrepreneur than you would in a more traditional job,” Berman believes. “And for a lot of entrepreneurs, the harder you work, the better off you are.” Berman’s husband, David Bloom, BComm 08 (see his story below), Ryan’s brother, owns the restaurant Sumac, a few blocks away. Jacqueline met David through a third Bloom brother, Jon, who owns Tuck Shop across the street from Rustique. They all hope that the stretch of Notre-Dame St. between the two establishments becomes a walking destination for locals and tourists.

Berman credits David for fostering her passion for food. “Their mom did us wives a wonderful service by having them involved in the kitchen,” she says.

  • Drop by Rustique: 4615 Notre Dame W., Montreal

David Bloom David Bloom co -owns Sumac in Montreal. Bloom says of his days at Concordia: “It was fun to be with people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, to get to know them and build relationships with them.”

David Bloom and Raquel Zagury: Mid-East tastes

Sumac on Notre-Dame St. in Montreal has been open for less than a year, yet it’s already known as a great mid-priced spot with easy, flavourful fare, plus possibly the best falafel in town. The restaurant is co-owned by David Bloom, BComm 08, and chef Raquel Zagury, BFA 01. Both have family in the Middle East and are keen to expand the palates of Montrealers.

While doing his degree at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, Bloom knew he eventually wanted to be a small-business owner, though he wasn’t necessarily thinking of a restaurant. Upon graduation, he followed his passion for sport and became the assistant coach for Concordia’s men’s basketball team for six years. Yet he has always had a passion for food, too, and saw a gap in the market for good meals served up in a place that was neither too casual nor that qualified as fine dining.

Bloom had worked at many restaurants, including Monkland Tavern with his brother, Jon. That’s where he first asked out Jacqueline Berman (see story on page 41), who co-owns Rustique Pie Kitchen with his other brother, Ryan. Now married, Bloom and Berman live in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of St-Henri, so when he got the itch to open a restaurant he looked for a locale there.

A large open space that used to be a reptile wholesaler became available. Now the room is warm and welcoming, beautiful with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. It looks so organically comfortable that one doesn’t think of the difficulties that went into its creation.

“Everything’s a challenge in the beginning,” Bloom says, from finding the right location, financing, construction and “just getting everybody to show up on time and do quality work.” Overall, Bloom considers himself and Zagury lucky. “We got our permits relatively quickly and there were no huge nightmares,” he says. The owners embrace the role that Sumac places in culinary education. Many Montrealers know Middle Eastern food from late night shish taouk sandwiches, and probably haven’t even heard of some of the spices or dishes at Sumac. “We’re not doing anything incredibly avant-garde, but we’re adding to the dialogue with Middle Eastern food,” he says.

Preserved lemons, smoked paprika and cumin are unusual enough, but dukkah and s’rug generally require explanations (a savoury Egyptian spice mix and a Yemeni hot sauce, respectively). Bloom heartily encourages customers to explore, and often recommends sabich, a combination of hard-boiled egg, fried eggplant, and fermented mango sauce called amba. They often fall in love with the Iraqi street food. And, a bonus for some, everything except the pita is gluten free.

The hectic multitasking of the business doesn’t faze Bloom. “I’m from a sports background so I like the competitive nature, the fast pace of the restaurant industry,” he says. He’s convinced that Concordia schooled him well in the field, particularly in his favourite classes that analyzed real businesses, their problems and successes.

For now, Bloom is happy to be firmly establishing Sumac with Zagury as a destination restaurant. He fervently hopes to travel more in the Middle East, which will no doubt bring an even wider range of tastes to the restaurant.

  • Drop by Sumac: 3618 Notre Dame W., Montreal

Juliana España Keller Cooking teacher Juliana España Keller started small but went bigger upon moving to her current loft-style apartment. Word of mouth and media coverage bring her clients.

Juliana España Keller: The art of cooking

Tall, tattooed, with long black hair and an easy authority, Juliana España Keller, BFA 00, MFA 03, is quite comfortable providing direction. Keller is a parttime studio arts professor at Concordia and a part-time cooking instructor out of her home.

Keller’s vast loft apartment in Montreal’s Mile End district has a community dining table that comfortably seats 16 and a kitchen island that can easily accommodate a small horde of eager culinarians. Large contemporary photos and paintings hang about the bright room, which seems designed to foster creativity and open minds.

Recently, Keller has taken on evening cooking soirées. Having agreed beforehand on the type of food, she divides a group of students into teams: one station works on appetizers, one on entrées and another on dessert. “I wanted to create an original format where the person who’s hosting invites their own friends, for an occasion,” she says. Birthday parties are popular, as are holiday times, and she’s held a class for Ubisoft workers from France who wanted to learn English cooking terms.

The multilingual Keller was born in England, lived in and was married in New York City and moved to Venezuela, where her daughters were born. Her husband’s work led them to Montreal in 1991, and Keller eventually studied painting and drawing at Concordia, then earned her MFA in sculpture. “Because I travelled a lot, I entertained a lot and learned about food in many different countries,” Keller says. “I’ve been influenced by so many things, so many cultures, languages and ways of living. And of course food was part of that.”

She keeps a fine balance between giving classes and having time for her own art, though Keller definitely sees parallels between the two. “It’s about being creative with materials,” she says. “And my teaching experience comes in handy because I’m able to delegate and make people feel comfortable around the kitchen, which is what you do when you teach somebody painting or drawing. You have to have a knack for making people understand it’s not as hard as they think it is.”

Keller is keen on demystifying food from different countries, teaching people how to use unfamiliar ingredients, and urging them to support local grocery stores. She imparts the skills of bringing the food to the table at the right times, how to work as a team and to clean as you go. She wants cooking to be about preparing healthy foods, bringing together family, sharing recipes and passing on good habits to kids. As a child, Keller’s Spanish chef father introduced her to rarities such as asparagus and pomegranates. Her summers were spent in Spain next to the sea and watching her aunts cook paella and calamari.

And she desperately wants people to get out of culinary ruts. “We always tend to eat the same things,” Keller decries, citing the gamut of veggie burgers in her hood, or the trend of bacon on everything. “Bacon is the next best thing in Canada. I don’t know why everyone’s infatuated with bacon. Not that it’s not tasty, just that there’s so much more variety out there. There are things you can make that are just as easy but way more interesting in terms of flavour and texture and all the rest.”

Gabriel Malbogat and Robert Kauffman Gabriel Malbogat and Robert Kauffman at their Chef on Call premises.

Robert Kauffman and Gabriel Malbogat: Delivering top quality

Robert Kauffman, BComm 08, and Gabriel Malbogat, BA 09, had eaten more than their fair share of mediocre delivery food as undergraduates. Not only was the food usually previously frozen and lacklustre, the phone service was rushed. So they knew the hungry masses would appreciate fresh, quality meals brought to their doors, and in 2009 started up Chef on Call (, billed as a home-cooked delivery service.

Kauffman and Malbogat met through their work as promoters, having seen each other around the neighbourhood and at the DJ parties they marketed. Although each went to Concordia, they lived in the McGill University ghetto (Montreal’s Milton Parc district).

After graduating, Kauffman came up with the idea for Chef on Call, and Malbogat then came on board. There now two corporate locations — one near McGill, one near Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus — and a central kitchen in Old Montreal. They have 40 to 50 part-time employees, and franchising is available.

The top sellers are chicken tenders (“hand-breaded every day,” boasts Kauffman) and burgers. Milkshakes are popular and come in flavours from mint to marshmallow. If you’re seeking perkup nutrients over late-night comfort, salads are vivid with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, or cherry tomatoes and red onions.

Prices are reasonable. Though students are good tippers, there are policies in place for staff to be understanding when they’re not.

Kauffman and Malbogat are also proud of their donation campaign. Each month one dollar from a specialty burger goes to a community-based non-profit group such as Dans La Rue, school programs and Head and Hands. “We wanted to connect with the local community and were at a point where we can give back,” says Malbogat. Not only do they market test new combos but also support causes close to their hearts. Malbogat was in after-school programs as a child and remembers how badly governmental budget cuts affected them.

The cramped basement location near McGill gets hectic when orders come in at the rate of 60 an hour during prime times. Kauffman and Malbogat are looking for a nearby space to move to that could also house the off-site kitchen and accommodate walk-ins.

As for the vagaries of running a business, “Nothing surprises us anymore,” Kauffman says. Electricity goes out, water gets cut and when the internet goes down, he admits, “we’re paralyzed.” Yet they have not only worked smoothly together the past six years — they were also roommates for four of them.

During school, Kauffman ran a business installing security cameras for retail businesses. His dad worked in the clothing industry so, as Malbogat jokes, Kauffman was “an entrepreneur from day one” — although his food industry experience was “just the eating side,” Kauffman concedes. “We didn’t work one shift in a restaurant before. We just took a dive in the deep end.”

Malbogat, however, says food is in his bloodline. His Italian grandmother opened a delivery restaurant in Montreal’s Little Italy in the 1940s. “When I first moved here I visited my grandma often,” he says. “She’d put one thing in the pot and it’d taste way better than anything else I tasted. She always wanted me to open up a restaurant.” Though she’s no longer around, he adds, “She passed knowing I did what she wanted me to do.”

  • Drop by Chef on Call: 2055(A) Bishop St. or 362 Sherbrooke St. W., Montreal 

Penelope Yotis Penelope Yotis owns En Cachette Speakeasy bar in Montreal. She’s always been open to experimenting. “At the beginning, you don’t know what’s going to work. Your cocktails, everything.”

Penelope Yotis : Prohibition-era good times

There’s a sweet-secret feel to the subterranean bar En Cachette Speakeasy, like a wink from a stranger. With a prohibition-era vibe and good classic cocktails, the bar has been drawing habitués from all over Montreal since it opened in 2012. Owner Penelope Yotis, BA 10, may have studied political science and history yet she says she’s “an entrepreneur at heart.”

While a Concordia student, Yotis and her mother ran the well-established Greek restaurant Rodos in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges district for the last seven of its 30 years. When the landlord bulldozed it illegally to build condos, Yotis decided to look for a business elsewhere instead of getting mired in costly and draining legal proceedings. Before long she was looking at a space that used to be a Polish restaurant with a liquor license, centrally located on St. Denis St. Since she felt that bars make more money than restaurants and are a little less competitive, she chose to open a speakeasy-styled place, inspired loosely by some of her favourite haunts in New York City.

Her handyman father helped renovate, keeping the old stone walls and some wood banisters, adding flocked wallpaper and building a wood bar from scratch. Her mother works part time in the kitchen, ensuring “the best calamari in town,” Yotis swears, for the 5-à-7 crowd.

“You can’t be static when it comes to improving,” Yotis says. She experimented with menus and being open for lunch before settling into a groove. En Cachette now attracts the pre-theatre and post-work crowd and really picks up after 10 p.m.

Priced for young professionals, the customers are heavily multiracial and from as far as the West Island and South Shore, lured by the quality music spun by well-known DJs. “I’ve heard us called the ‘ethnic’ bar,” says Yotis, because of the diverse, mostly Anglophone crowd. She met her husband at En Cachette.

Yotis loves the history behind cocktails. When people made their own hooch during the prohibition era, the results weren’t exactly smooth, so they’d add different mixes to cover up the taste.

To go with the branding of the bar, Yotis “keeps to the classics” with simple recipes done well that are easy to teach to new staff. She’s partial to rye-based Old Fashioneds. “Rye is such an old man’s drink, but I find it really good compared to blended scotches or harsh bourbons,” she says.

She grew up steeped in political discourse and could talk for hours on the subject; her communist Greek grandparents hung pictures of Che, Marx and Lenin on the wall in lieu of family photos. They’d been guerrillas in Greece and fled for their safety to the former Soviet Union after the Second World War. Yotis’s parents were born there before making their way to Montreal.

Yotis feels her education helps her to connect to others. “You know people when you know their history,” she says. Such interpersonal skills are invaluable for a bar, especially one for which blatant marketing tactics are antithetical to its underground image. When En Cachette opened, Yotis relied heavily on word of mouth, social media, her network of friends who would host celebrations at En Cachette — and her reputation. “I was a party girl,” she laughs, “I throw a good party.”

  • Drop by En Cachette Speakeasy: 1765 Saint-Denis St., Montreal

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney buy grapes for their wines in Burgundy, Oregon and the Niagara Valley. “We thought we’d want to buy our own winery someday, but we like working in the three regions.”

Thomas Bachelder and Mary Delaney: Triple-threat winemakers

Although they make wine that is praised by internationally acclaimed critic Jancis Robinson, Thomas Bachelder, BA 81, and Mary Delaney, BFA 91, don’t own their own vineyard. Instead, they are what are called micro-négociants, or small-scale wine producers.

Bachelder and Delaney buy grapes (organic when possible) in three regions — Burgundy, Oregon and the Niagara Valley, Ont. — and turn them into wine using the very same techniques, style and mindset for each. Focusing on pinot noir and chardonnay, they rent equipment and cellars in each country, create the same conditions and use the same barrel stock for aging. The substantive change is the terroir (roughly, sense of place), which allows for each wine to truly show the essential characteristics of their grape’s homeland and climate so a drinker can compare among regions.

Bachelder, a wine journalist and ace home winemaker, applied for wine school in 1991, just two years after he and Delaney were married. They took the plunge to change their lives and moved to Burgundy, where they’d honeymooned. “All I wanted to do was live in France,” he says. Many friends visited, and Bachelder likes to say it was there that pinot noir and chardonnay grapes chose him. But work beckoned. They moved to Oregon to work on Ponzi Vineyards, then returned to Burgundy to join Meursault, then bounced back to America’s west coast to help start Lemelson Vineyards.

Then in 2003 Bachelder got the call to be the winemaker for the new enterprise of Le Clos Jordanne in the Niagara Valley. “When you’re a Quebecer you don’t want to take the 401 and just go for opportunity in Ontario. You think it’s going to be Americanized. But after leaving the real America for Ontario, you find it profoundly Tim-Horton’s- Canadian,” he says. By now, the couple had two young daughters that they wished to send to French school, and realized that Niagara is a seven-hour drive to Montreal, a seven-hour flight to France and just another handy flight in the other direction to Oregon. They’ve stayed in the region since, establishing Bachelder wines with the 2009 vintage.

Before this life of wine, Delaney’s degree was in art history, which was well suited for taking over her father Dan Delaney’s Westmount, Que., art gallery. Bachelder says Delaney has “business in her veins,” evident not only in their shared operations but also in her sideline of selling barrels to winemakers.

Bachelder did a communication studies major because he loved TV and radio, and a music minor (he played jazz guitar). Graduating in the recession of 1981 meant that the coveted CBC and Radio-Canada jobs were just out of reach and he did corporate communications for some years. “I had to learn about business, spreadsheets, Excel, delivering a production on budget,” he says. He became comfortable around powerful people, useful for when he had to approach investors for his business.

Bachelder says his professors instilled critical thinking and taught him well, on everything from the Gutenberg galaxy to modern merchandising. “It was a great fermenting ground. Half the students were French and half English, half were men and half women,” he says. “The degree gave me a framework on how to approach the world.”

Visit Bachelder:

— Maeve Haldane, BFA 91, is a Montreal freelance writer.

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