"When I was young," he recalls, "my mother was ill, and so I was sent from our home in Quebec City to live on a farm. The lady of the house had a big garden, kept chickens, milked cows. When I moved back home, I upset my mother because I refused to drink the milk there. Even now, I can't drink supermarket milk: it has no taste."
Laprise dropped out of accounting school to study cooking in Quebec City, where he found that French gastronomy was regarded as dogma: "The teachers would have us prepare the classic Sole à la Florentine with frozen spinach even when we had fresh broccoli. They'd want us to do the recipe exactly as it was written." The young chef eventually traveled to France to work with Jean-Pierre Billoux at Hotel de la Cloche near Dijon. One day, he recalls, "a farmer brought in two bags of beautiful leeks, and one of the cooks threw them into the refrigerator. The farmer grabbed the cook by his jacket, pushed him up against the door and shouted, 'You never do that with my vegetables!' And I thought, he's right. He's worked hard to grow perfect leeks."
Laprise's technique may be French, but he is definitively a North American chef--where else could anyone have created roasted venison with a jus flavored with spruce tips, or seared foie gras with rhubarb compote, baby corn and pumpkin seed oil? While many produce-driven chefs strive to make their food delicate, Laprise revels in the robustness of his ingredients and delights in unusual combinations, as in a salad of fennel and vanilla-pickled onions, tangy almost to the point of bitterness, which accompanies his seared sea scallops with fig confit. Laprise, however, is concerned with freshness, not novelty--he began using Asian ingredients, for example, because they were shipped in fresh to ethnic markets during Montreal's icy winters.