Having gone to elementary school, high school, and culinary school together, the chemistry between these two Montreal chefs goes way beyond the kitchen. Born and raised in Montreal, Carlo and Giancarlo blend flavours from some of the richest culinary hotspots around the world and never cease to bring the best of their knowledge to the table.
The duo often reminisce about their experiences in the competitive world of food and describe their cooking style as “homey, family-friendly, and largely influenced by their Italian roots.”
At the beginning of an early-week dinner shift, we met with Carlo and Giancarlo to talk about their passion for cooking, their experiences in food scenes in and out of Montreal, and the restaurant they currently call home.
What sparked your passion for cooking?
Giancarlo: As a child, I was never the type to watch cartoons. Instead, I’d watch cooking shows with my grandmother, and I’d say that’s where it all started. After high school, I went to cooking school and I’ve been working in the industry ever since.
Carlo: My dad used to own a bakery and I’d often help out by putting stickers on the products. I come from a large Italian family, so I’d say that definitely influenced my career choice.
When and where did you complete your culinary training?
Giancarlo: We went to the Pearson School of Culinary Arts together back in 2004. We completed the cooking program, plus a half-year high-end specialization.
Carlo: I completed a three-month stage in Sicily back in 2007. Last summer, we also both went to Tuscany to meet with a chef we used to work with in Montreal. He then asked us if we were interested in helping him in London, and we said, “Why not!” We completed a one-month stage at the Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in Hyde Park.
Giancarlo: We actually wanted to find a place in London and stay there for a while, but life got pretty expensive there. So we came back to Montreal last November, it was on a Thursday. We had a meeting the following day and on Monday we were already back in action, working at Le Slang.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
Both: It’s mostly a mixture of what we’ve learned over the years; we’re definitely not afraid to try new things. We’ve worked in Italian kitchens, French kitchens, kitchens with Asian fusion influences such as Montreal’s Cavalli, but no matter what, we always go back to our Italian roots. We’ve been lucky enough to work with several talented chefs in Montreal and we love to share what we’ve learned throughout all of these experiences.
What is your current specialty?
Both: We make everything from scratch at Le Slang. We make our own pasta, the bread is baked in-house, and the dessert ice creams are prepared here… We’re part of the process from beginning to end.
What are your favourite ingredients?
Giancarlo: Le Slang is situated right next to the Atwater Market, so we buy all of our fresh ingredients there. We focus on seasonal vegetables and meats and on what’s trending. We like to cater to the neighbourhood.
Carlo: If we were located next to the Jean-Talon Market, we would probably shop there!
I’m going to put you both on the spot. Your friends just called and they’re coming over in 30 minutes. You need to whip up something delicious as fast as possible. What dish would you put together?
Giancarlo: Pasta, it’s quintessential. No matter who comes over, you’re always going to make pasta.
Carlo: I’m a simple guy. I love my mom’s cutlets, my dad’s cold room is filled with tomato sauces and sausages hanging from the ceiling, so I’d probably go with some cheese and cold cuts. At the restaurant, we’ll play with what we’re serving on our chalkboard menu. A lot of our friends visit us here, so we’ll serve them some pasta, meat, fish, and of course, dessert.
Have you worked together in restaurants other than Le Slang?
Carlo: Right out of culinary school, Giancarlo went to BICE and I went to Cavalli. We then took over the kitchen at Kabana and stayed there for a little while. I’d say we worked on and off for that group for about a year.
You’re both very involved in the Montreal culinary community. What other projects have you/continue to work on together in and outside of the kitchen?
Giancarlo: We host bagatelle-style brunches every few months or so. We wouldn’t necessarily call it a party because we cater to foodies, but you definitely get the best of both worlds—music, drinking, and great food. With all of the food-related shows on television nowadays, people are more aware of what goes on in a restaurant. The food industry is growing; people appreciate the hard work that goes into preparing dishes a lot more, so the standards have inevitably gone up.
Carlo: We choose a theme and ask other Montreal chefs to work with us. They’re usually old friends we’ve already worked with before. Chefs Joe Rodriguez from Tapas 24, Athiraj Phrasavath from Mercuri, and Sergio Mattoscio from Industria, to name a few, have been with us since the beginning. Our last brunch was back in November at Industria and we served over 240 people… It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Do you have any special rituals before a big night at the restaurant?
Giancarlo: We spent a few months in Castiglione della Pescaia, a beautiful, small beach town in Tuscany. We worked 12 to 14-hour shifts, from July to September, without a single day off. It was a lot of work, but we were minutes away from the beach and 5 minutes away from work, so the experience was great overall.
Carlo: At around 6pm, we’d play the 3rd period Canadiens entry song, For Whom The Bell Tolls by Metallica (he said while playing the song on his phone). We’re both huge Habs fans, so this brought us back home for a few minutes every day.
What makes Le Slang stand out from the competition?
Giancarlo: Fresh family-style tasting menus. We make sure people feel at home: it’s how we were raised. We’ll come say hello, make sure you always have enough wine and maybe even have a shot with you at the end of your meal!
Carlo: The menu changes all the time. You could stop by two days in a row and you’ll eat something completely different. We have carte blanche, so it’s really fun.
What are your top 3 chef suggestions on Le Slang’s menu?
Giancarlo: The tartare, but it also depends what you’re in the mood for. All of our ingredients are as good as it gets. For example, we get all of our meat from our friend’s butcher shop in the Atwater Market, La Boucherie de Tours. We know we’ll get nothing but quality. Our menu constantly changes, but we always want our guests to have a good time and leave satisfied.
Carlo: I agree, the tartare. I love our beef tartare. I’d also say anything that is made in-house, prepared with bare hands. All of our pastas are a must-have.
What are your future plans as chefs? Would you like to eventually open a restaurant together? If so, what type of cuisine would you specialize in?
Giancarlo: My family owns a farm in Saint-Isidore. We have a limitless amount of animals and organic vegetables. Right now, all of the products go to close family and friends, but we’d love to get more involved with my dad to start a new project and expand the farm’s reach.
Carlo: As a chef, owning your own restaurant is the dream; you always want to reach your highest potential. We would probably stick to Italian cuisine, but maybe not as refined as the food we serve here. We’d give it that homey, hipster Montreal feel. It could be happening sooner than you think…
Carlo and Giancarlo are taking the Montreal food scene by storm and have yet to reach the age of 30. Keep an eye out for their next party brunch, or any one of their upcoming projects. We predict a bright future for these two.