After stints in some of Montreal’s glitziest kitchens, Chef Paul Toussaint is getting his own star turn. The 33-year-old, who most recently cooked at Agrikol, the Haitian eatery co-owned by Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, recently opened Kamúy , a sleek pan-Caribbean restaurant in the city’s entertainment district.
Toussaint had planned to open Kamúy in June, in time for Montreal’s festival season. However, the pandemic derailed his timetable—and pummeled restaurants—but also offered a silver lining, he says. “Covid gave me a better perspective to think about the more human side of the project—how to train my staff, how to work with customers, how to get the art and music perfect,” Toussaint says. “If we’d opened on time, maybe the place wouldn’t have been as good.”
Sharing stories through food has been a passion for the chef, who left Haiti for Montreal to attend law school at age 20, and quickly switched tracks to a culinary career. He worked his way into the kitchen at Toqué! , the storied Montreal restaurant run by legendary chef Normand Laprise .
Toussaint returned to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, pitching in with rebuilding efforts while heading the kitchen at the rooftop lounge of the upscale Karibe hotel. Butler and Chassagne of Arcade Fire lured him back to Montreal in 2017, a year after they opened Agrikol. “Win and Régine do things for love and for culture, not just money,” Toussaint says. “That’s something I learned from them, to make things with a mission and vision.”
At Kamúy, Toussaint’s broadened his menu to honor cultures throughout the Caribbean, and elevated perceptions of their cuisines. “There isn’t a Jamaican or Caribbean restaurant in Montreal where you don’t get food in a takeout container,” he says. His executive chefs, Ana Castillo and Vincent Bolet , are also partners in the restaurant, as is art director Olivier Villaire , who curated Kamúy’s vibrantly colorful artwork. “The art is extremely important,” Toussaint says.
Kamúy’s menu, which will change frequently depending on market ingredients, includes dombrey, Haitian dumplings filled with Caribbean sweet potato and seafood in a coconut bisque; jicama carpaccio with watermelon radish in a vinaigrette of lulo, a Colombian fruit; and a lomo al trapo, the Colombian plate of roasted beef and root vegetables.
“Ana’s from Colombia, and that dish is part of the slavery story,” Toussaint says. “When they had a piece of meat, they had a bonfire, enveloped the meat with rice and salt and spices, and threw it on. It’s something with a big story that we love. We didn’t create a menu just to make the customer feel fancy. We made it with history. It’s about what they eat in the Caribbean, and why they eat it in that season.”
Likewise, Toussaint intends to tell a much bigger story through Kamúy. “I want the Caribbean to be well-represented,” he says. “Not always by slavery. Not by poverty. Not by problems. Not by criminals. When they talk about Haiti or Africa, it’s always the negative part, not the riches of the culture. America, Canada, Europe—the riches came from Africa. I want to share our culture. This is my battle right now.”
Toussaint shared with Penta some of his favorite things in the world.
The last place I traveled before the pandemic was… New Orleans. Win and Régine co-founded the Krewe de Kanaval festival there. New Orleans is a mix of Haiti and African descendants. There was no New Orleans before Haiti. Every year I would travel to New Orleans with art and masks.
When I’m not cooking at Kamúy, my favorite dish to make is… white rice with bean sauce, and a Haitian stew called diri sos pwa legim. It’s like a Creole ratatouille with beef, pork, or seafood. Even my son asks for it; maybe because I eat it so much.
What I learned from Chef Normand Laprise was… discipline. Tenacity. Passion. Perseverance. And freedom. He wants you to be free, to show your energy, to show your background. He doesn’t just bring you into Quebec culture without feeling. I love him so much. For me, he’s like a good father. The executive chef was Charles Antoine , who put everything together and always went for the best. You can’t talk about that kitchen without him.
My favorite Arcade Fire song is… “ Ann Ale! (Let’s Go!) .” It’s a kind of carnival song they did a couple of years ago with a Haitian band. Régine is from Haiti. She brought Win into the culture. He embraced it. Hearing Win sing in Creole... this is culture for me.
My favorite spot in Montreal is… Montreal Plaza restaurant. This is where I understood that fine dining doesn’t have to feel strict. Sometimes you go out and there’s no music, no noise. Here, they created a Quebec restaurant with culture. Every time I go there I get inspired. I want to do more. It’s a spot with energy.
In my refrigerator at home, you’ll find… epis , the jerk spice. Cooked rice and beans, so I can have them anytime. My spicy scotch bonnet syrup. Tonic water, if I just want a gin and tonic. Thyme and parsley. Lime. With those ingredients, I can cook.
At my fantasy dinner party, the guests would include… Ingrid Enriquez-Donissaint [Montreal brand strategist and co-founder of TED-like series Alcove ]. She’s of Cuban and Haitian descent, born and raised in Canada, and loves food. When we opened Kamúy, she came every day. Luck Mervil. He’s a singer who lives between Montreal and Haiti. When he comes to the restaurant, you feel he even eats with passion. Jean-Sebastian Buteau, my boss in Haiti when I was cooking at Asu, the Karibe hotel’s rooftop lounge. When he eats, you feel his energy. Macimala Roy , my wife. She works with me on the business side. In restaurants, she critiques more than I do. She has a great palate, and wants things to be perfect.