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Benevolent eating with Ellie // Discussion with Julien Vézina on the pleasure of eating

Alimentation bienveillante avec Ellie // Discussion avec Julien Vézina sur le plaisir de manger

- By Ellie Gauthier, nutritionist

Discussion with Julien Vézina on the pleasure of eating

Julien Vézina is co-owner and “cocktail/drinks” director of Honō Izakaya and Honō Ramen in the Saint-Roch district of Quebec, two restaurants with Japanese flavors prized for their warm and friendly appearance. Julien is also a running enthusiast in his free time. He kindly agreed to discuss with me what the pleasure of eating represents for him through his daily life as a restaurateur, alongside his interest in running.

Over a good coffee, we explored together how food brings us together, gives us pleasure and reconnects us with our roots. Our observation: Foods are much more than calories or nutrients for our bodies. They are intrinsically part of our sociological and cultural universe. We therefore hope, in all modesty, that this little interview on the pleasure of eating can resonate with you too.

First, what is your professional background?

I have a rather atypical background. Since I was very young, I have always felt the call to be my own “boss”, without really understanding why. At CÉGEP, I completed a technique in sales management and marketing and then worked in web marketing. I loved my job, but I wasn't passionate about it. On the other hand, the restaurant industry had always both attracted me and also greatly intimidated me. When the Post Office opened, I finally seized the opportunity and landed a job as a host there. I then held the positions of manager of the bar program in Quebec and partner at the restaurant L'Entrepôt Mont-Royal. A little later, I went to work at the Atelier to see a completely different approach to restoration and “make a little volume”. At that time, my partner Patrick Beaulieu and I had in mind creating a bar focused on cocktails. When we visited big cities like Montreal or Toronto, we used to frequent “Izayaka”, which means “tavern” or “brewery” in Japanese, and we wanted to introduce the concept to Quebec. One thing led to another, and we finally decided to integrate Japanese dishes into our concept, to create a real “Izakaya”. We then met Ariane and Thomas, who joined us to set up the project. Honō Izakaya and Honō Ramen will have been open for 5 years and 1 year respectively next February!

What does the pleasure of eating mean to you?

When I think of the pleasure of eating, I think of sharing and the people who gather around the table. Besides, since I was young, I have seen my parents and grandparents cooking and I often cook with them. The acts of eating and cooking have therefore always been moments of unity for me, where we share knowledge and memories. These are also opportunities to discover new flavors and new ingredients.
For me, the pleasure of eating also comes from eating locally, both to reduce our environmental impact and to eat tastier fruits and vegetables. Why buy strawberries from California when you have the best strawberries in the world growing just a few miles from here? And a tomato that your friend grew in Portneuf has so much more flavor than a tomato imported from Mexico, which was picked under-ripe only so that it could arrive “red” on our grocery shelves. after several hundred kilometers traveled. On this momentum, I would even say that since Covid, I have somehow felt the call to return to the earth. In fact, I started taking training and reading more about organic farming and permaculture. Furthermore, as my father comes from a family of farmers and he took over the land from his parents to “keep it in the family”, I allow myself to daydream about future projects, on this one. this. Moreover, my two “pandemic” revelations who inspire me for their vision of agriculture are Jean-Martin Fortier (farmer specializing in organic agriculture and author), and Marc Séguin (painter, author and filmmaker).

How do your values ​​surrounding the pleasure of eating translate into your restaurants?

In fact, if you come to Honō Izakaya and you don't share, you haven't had the true Honō Izayaka experience. So that's part of our welcome speech: here the menu is focused on sharing, we make great discoveries and in the end, the bill is often less expensive!

For the layout of the premises, we worked with the architect Charlène Bourgeois, who understood our values ​​well. The premises have a very sober look, reminiscent of nature and which leaves room for what is really important, that is to say what is on the plate and the interactions around the table. The venue does not “steal the show”, but rather enhances the experience, if you can put it that way!
Regarding local food, since we serve Japanese food, it is difficult to only source local foods. However, we still do business with several market garden farms and local producers, whether for herbs, edible flowers, mushrooms, organic vegetables, small fruits (haskap, morello cherry, sea buckthorn and blackcurrant), ciders. and gins. For my part, in the cocktail program, I find it so exciting to work with Japanese spirits, coffee from Olive and morello cherries from Quebec, to give just one example! We are lucky: there are so many people in Japan or South America who would dream of working with haskap, sea buckthorn, morello cherry or blackcurrant. Moreover, in one of my cocktails that I am most proud of, I add a sea buckthorn cordial grown by a couple from Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges and seaweed from Quebec as a garnish to recall the Japanese side. .

What is a healthy diet for you?

I believe that a healthy diet requires balance, both in variety and quantity. I don't like putting labels on myself. Overall, I eat a lot of vegetables and I eat less meat than before, but I still allow myself to eat meat at certain times and I don't stop myself from eating fried foods or desserts either. A healthy diet for me also requires a certain structure. I need energy to get through my days so it is essential for me to eat frequently and in sufficient quantity. If I don't eat enough during a day where I combine a run, 4 hours of office work and 6 hours behind the bar, I definitely lack energy!

In conclusion, how does your interest in running fit into your vision of healthy eating and the pleasure of eating with the goal of life balance?

Running is important to me both for my physical health and to find a certain balance in my life. I gravitate towards the world of bars and there are lots of things that come with that: staying up late, consuming more alcohol, etc. Running is therefore microtherapy for me, in the sense that it allows me to sleep better, spend time alone, escape into nature and manage my stress. Recently, I started running with friends and in groups and I'm enjoying it. I would say that now, running is as much a “for me” moment as it is a moment of sharing and meeting new people.

See you soon,
Ellie :)