- By Ellie Gauthier, nutritionist
Discussion with Julien Vézina on the pleasure of eating
Julien Vézina is co-owner and "cocktails/beverages" director of the Honō Izakaya et Hono Ramen in the Saint-Roch district of Quebec, two restaurants with Japanese flavors prized for their warmth and conviviality. Julien is also an avid runner in his spare time. He kindly agreed to discuss with me what the pleasure of eating represents for him through his daily life as a restaurant owner, alongside his interest in running.
Over a good coffee, we explored together how food brings us together, gives us pleasure and makes us reconnect with our roots. Our observation: food is much more than calories or nutrients for our body. 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 as well.
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 commercial management and marketing and then worked in web marketing. I liked my job, but I was not passionate about it. On the other hand, catering had always both attracted and intimidated me. When the Post office opened its doors, I finally seized the opportunity and landed a host position 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 theWorkshop to see a completely different approach to restoration and "do some volume". At that time, my partner Patrick Beaulieu and I had in mind to create a bar focused on cocktails. When we visited big cities like Montreal or Toronto, we used to go to “Izayaka”, which means “tavern” or “brasserie” in Japanese, and we wanted to introduce the concept to Quebec. One thing leading to another, 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 be 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 find themselves around the table. Moreover, since I was young, I have seen my parents and my grandparents cook and I often cook with them. The acts of eating and cooking have therefore always been unifying moments for me, where we share knowledge and memories. They are also opportunities to discover new flavors and new ingredients.
For me, the pleasure of eating also means eating locally, both to reduce our environmental impact and to consume 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 underripe 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 the Covid, I somehow feel the call to return to the earth. Indeed, I started to take training and learn more about organic farming and permaculture. Moreover, as my father comes from a family of farmers and that he took over the torch of the land from his parents to "keep it in the family", I allow myself to daydream about future projects, on this this. Moreover, my two "pandemic" revelations who inspire me for their vision of agriculture are Jean-Martin Fortier (farmer specializing in organic farming 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 the Honō Izakaya and you don't share, you haven't had the real Honō Izakaya experience. So it'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 development of the premises, we did business with the architect Charlène Bourgeois, who understood our values. The place has a very sober look, reminiscent of nature and which leaves room for what is really important, that is to say what is found on the plate and the interactions around the table. The local does not "steal the show", but rather enhances the experience, if we can put it that way!
As for local food, since we serve Japanese food, it's difficult to source only local food. However, we still do business with several vegetable farms and local producers, whether for fine herbs, edible flowers, mushrooms, organic vegetables, berries (hashkap, morello cherry, sea buckthorn and blackcurrant), ciders and gins. For my part, in the cocktail program, I find that it's so trippy to work with both Japanese spirits, Olive coffee and 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, sour cherry or blackcurrant. Moreover, in one of my cocktails of which I am most proud, I add a cordial of sea buckthorn grown by a couple from Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges and seaweed from Quebec as a garnish to recall the Japanese side .
What is healthy eating for you?
I believe that a healthy diet requires balance, both in variety and in quantity. I don't like labeling myself. Overall, I eat a lot of vegetables and I eat less meat than before, but I still allow myself to eat meat at times and I don't stop myself from eating fried foods or desserts either. A healthy diet for me also goes through 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'm sure I'm low on energy!
In conclusion, how does your interest in running fit into your vision of healthy eating and the pleasure of eating with a view to achieving a balanced life?
Running is important to me as much for my physical health as for finding a certain balance in my life. I gravitate towards the world of bars and there are a lot of things that go hand in hand with that: going to bed late, consuming more alcohol, etc. Running is therefore for me a microtherapy, in the sense that it allows me to sleep better, spend time alone, escape to nature and manage my stress. Recently, I started running with friends and in a group and I'm taking a liking to it. I would say that now, running is as much a moment “for me” as a moment of sharing and meeting new people.
See you soon,