By Julie Gedeon
“I had butterflies inside telling me it was time for new challenges.”
She embarked on her long-time dream of opening a restaurant, cooking school and gourmet boutique all in one location.
The name l’Espace MC Chef reflects the unique space Lepage wanted to bear her signature. “Everyone in the business knows I sign all of my notes as MC Chef.”
When she and business partner Sylvie Gravel found a 5,000-sq. ft. space in Vieux Québec last July, they used part of it to open a café.
“The café attracted many tourists, but our main goal was to introduce ourselves to the neighbourhood and create a buzz about the rest of our plans. It was great because we had a local clientele eager for us to open the restaurant.”
Lepage specializes in fusion cuisine that emphasizes the purity of mainly local ingredients by combining them in innovative ways. Her menu frequently changes to incorporate the best that Québec producers have to offer. Lepage also showcases her extensive travels with dishes such as kangaroo fermented in seawater.
Her cooking school has themed soirées that range from vegetarian nights, to cooking without heat to make tartar, ceviche and gazpacho, to most everything you can do with a duck. The students follow Lepage’s lead using all of l’Espace MC Chef’s equipment. “They don’t just take notes. They’re a real part of my kitchen.”
The boutique’s cream-coloured tabletops and shelves were set up primarily so cooking students could buy the products used in their lessons. “For instance, I use a transparent baking paper that’s hard to find elsewhere. We also have a variety of root and flower spices from Québec’s boreal forest.”
Customers are invited to recreate some of their Espace MC Chef experience at home by purchasing everything from Lepage’s truffle-infused mayonnaise to the restaurant’s elegant dinnerware.
The chef also provides a catering service. “It may seem like a lot, but Sylvie, who handles all of the sales, knows how to schedule everything reasonably, and I have a great sous-chef in Louis Vachon, along with a staff of about 20.”
MC Chef’s top tips:
- Follow your passion. If you do what you love, you’ll have the energy for it.
- Be inspired by others by visiting their restaurants, but come up with your own ideas.
- Plan and cost everything down to the smallest detail before starting a new project.
- Stay busy year-round with creative initiatives such as cooking lessons or catering services during the off-season or quieter nights.
- Find people you trust to run your operations in your absence.
- Travel as much as possible to learn how your local cuisine differs from the rest of the world.