French is one of the world’s great cuisines, known for formal techniques, fresh ingredients, simple flavours and an other-worldly pride in presentation. It has absorbed influences from its European neighbours and from former colonies. It has been driven to gastronomical heights by the global competition for Michelin stars and popularized by American chef Julia Child (and by Meryl Streep’s wonderful portrayal of her in Julie & Julia).
It’s an admirable, intimidating history, and one that Cara Lazarevich is facing as the new executive chef at The Marc, located on 106 Street in downtown Edmonton. The restaurant, open since 2010, is known for its steak frites, duck breast, charcuterie boards, escargot, beef tartare and other French classics.
Owner Patrick Saurette says there is a foundational approach to French cuisine. There are required techniques and ingredients, but there is also space for individual creativity. “We allow and encourage our chefs to put their fingerprints on our menu, to make it their own,” says Saurette. “When we interviewed Cara, she said, ‘I know Italian really well,’ and we said, ‘Bleed it in!’”
As a result, The Marc’s Sunday Supper Club – a monthly event focusing on a regional cuisine – has already expanded it’s focus and offered a France-Italy crossover. “They share a border, after all,” says Saurette, who, together with his wife and business partner Doris, operated the popular Italian restaurant Il Portico before taking on The Marc. “The potential is great!”
Lazarevich honed her skills at popular establishments Uccellino, Biera and La Petite Iza, but The Marc is her first shot at the top job. She says she’s not out to reinvent the crème brûlée, but that she will bring her own sensibilities to everything she does. “I’d like to keep it simple,” she says. “It’s important not to overcomplicate things. I’ll let the ingredients speak for themselves.” So the entrecôte frites stays, as do the deep fried beignets for dessert. As for the duck breast, of course it stays, but where it used to be accompanied by a medley of vegetables and two sauces, Lazarevich has dialled the sides back to a simple celeriac puree and braised red cabbage. “It’s a pretty classic pairing,” she says. “I just want to serve great food.”
Saurette says The Marc avoids trends in a trend-driven age, provides slow cuisine in fast times, and excels at those elements of restauranting that should never change. “We’ve always hung our hat on the food and the service,” he says. “I might even argue it’s ‘The service and the food.’ We want to excel at the welcome and the goodbye, as well as everything in between.”
Now, that “in between” will be the purview of Lazarevich and her team. “We offered her a platform to express herself,” Saurette says. “It’s her kitchen. They’re her people. It’s her time to shine.”
The Marc is open for lunch Tuesday to Friday and dinner Tuesday to Saturday.