Chef Normand Laprise of Toqué! - Biography

Montreal, QC, Canada

August 2010

Normand Laprise is a legend in Québec —the Thomas Keller of “la belle province.” But things weren’t always so glamorous. Laprise was headed for a more pedestrian career in accounting before he swapped a calculator for a chef’s knife.

Perhaps his culinary fate was sealed as a child when he was sent to live on a farm while his mother recovered from an illness; he ate garden-to-table food, communed with chickens, and drank milk fresh from the cow. To this day he still can’t bring himself to quaff grocery store milk. Laprise’s attempt at accounting was fleeting; he enrolled in culinary school and learned classic French techniques.

After school he went to France to cement his classical education and worked for Chef Jean-Pierre Billoux at Hotel de la Cloche near Dijon. In France, Laprise learned a deep appreciation for ingredients—to put as much care into storing, prepping, and cooking them as the farmers put into growing them.

He returned to Canada and continued to hone his craft in Québec City restaurant classics like Marie-Clarisse and Café de la Paix. Laprise was the opening chef at Citrus in Montreal where he immediately won rave reviews. He began incorporating seasonal produce into Gallic staples, following the spirit of this classic culinary tradition, but without the limitations of a by-the-book reading. His quasi-American spirit of independence led to dishes with creative flair, an inventive touch with flavor profiles, harnessed by razor sharp technique. Laprise remained at Citrus for four years before opening the restaurant that has been indelibly associated with him ever since. Toqué! was a joint venture with Christine Lamarche, who still co-owns this temple to Canadian cuisine.

In 1998 New York beckoned and Laprise headed south to consult at the now-shuttered TriBeCa restaurant Cena. His schlep to the Big Apple was well-rewarded, though; a three-star review from the New York Times followed shortly after opening. For more than a decade, his time has been shared among his flagship Toqué! (which has since become a Relais & Châteaux property), new projects, and top restaurants around the world as a guest chef. He has also welcomed great chefs in his kitchen in Montreal for special events, including Charlie Trotter, Daniel Boulud, and Ken Oringer. Laprise was recently included in the list of 100 most influential Québécois.