Restaurant Candide
By Martin Morin

Flying on Your Own Wings

Ontario born chef John Winter Russell has backpacked all over the country, beginning his career as a chef in Vancouver before relocating to Montreal, where he worked in restaurants like Pastaga and Van Horne.

Eventually John got the idea to open his own restaurant, an urge that grew stronger and stronger over time. After he quit his job in 2014, he had the fortune of meeting Danielle Bitton, an events management expert who fell under the spell of John's cooking. The two talked and came to an agreement: they would open their own restaurant together. And so Candide was born.

I wanted to find a place where I could happily spend every day for 10 years. - John Winter Russell, chef and co-owner
Photo courtesy of Candide

In Search of El Dorado

John had spent six months scouring the vast metropolis for a perfect location; he didn't want to set up shop just anywhere. "I wanted to find a place that felt good, as if I was at home, where I could happily spend every day for 10 years," he says. The goal was clear – they wanted this new restaurant to be around for at least a decade.

It was in Little Burgundy that John finally found El Dorado. More specifically, in a church that had been converted into a commercial building. At first the small ground floor didn't look too promising: "When I walked in, it was filthy and a complete mess, but there was a beautiful soul to the place," John recalls. Due to red tape, they couldn't start working immediately. John waited patiently and, after many months and a whole lot of elbow grease, Candide opened its doors in late November 2015.

Chef John Russell William prepares dishes that are artfully prepared but meant to be tasted.
Chef John Russell William prepares dishes that are artfully prepared but meant to be tasted. Photo courtesy of Candide

The Countryside in the City

Candide is relatively well hidden, tucked away from the main commercial arteries. In John's words, it's a blessing in disguise: "Not many people pass by, but you really have the sensation of getting out of the city. It's calm." And that is one of John's goals after all – to offer a country restaurant in the city.

So why settle here? "Montreal is an incubator for restaurant owners who have a vision," says John. "The customers are open to trying it. People are willing to give you a hand."

The dining room
Photo courtesy of Candide

Food that's Meant to be Eaten

John and his team have absolutely no interest in putting on a show-stopping spectacle. The restaurant is small, and it is deliberately so; it's meant to be a complete experience from arrival to departure. "We try to think of everything, to bring customers into our vision," says John. This vision is based on a pleasant, zen atmosphere, impeccable service and a menu derived mainly from local vegetables, fruits, grains and plants. The emphasis is not on animal protein or seafood.

"We aren't looking to demonstrate cooking techniques. We offer perfectly prepared food, without trying to impress," adds the chef. He has no interest in fussily presented dishes that people hesitate to touch. Of course, he does want to inspire an appetite, but not at the cost of scaring off the people who come to his table to eat. "This isn't an art gallery. People should want to touch it!"

Candide specializes in dishes made with Canadian-made ingredients.
Photo courtesy of Candide

Local Cuisine

All of the ingredients used at Candide come from Quebec, the Maritimes and occasionally from Eastern Ontario, but never further. "What would a regional cuisine be like if it had evolved here over 1,000 years ago?" he asks. It's expected, then, that Candide feature seasonal cuisine. In the spring, for example, root vegetables and preserved smoked fish give way to wild greenery.

During the year, the majority of the dishes remain on the menu for around three to six weeks while one dish changes every week. At the end of the meal, there's a choice of dessert or cheese, all year round. Candide is about discovering regional cuisine in a pleasant and rustic environment, just 30 seconds from the iconic Notre Dame.

The front window
Photo courtesy of Candide
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