MTLàTABLE: Mario Navarrete Jr., from Madre

Isa Tousignant

Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Mario Navarrete Jr. became a Montrealer in 1994, after he’d heard there was good food here, and decided this is where he wanted to pursue his career as a chef. After working at renowned restaurants including Ferreira Café, Bice and Les Caprices de Nicolas, he decided to merge his French training with his Peruvian culture and a market cuisine approach. He opened his first restaurant, Rasa, on tawny Laurier Avenue, and in 2007 opened the restaurant he would be most famous for, Madre, on Masson, in Rosemont.

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Why did you choose to open Madre in Rosemont?

Well, my first restaurant was more high-end, on Laurier, and I knew I wanted to do something more casual. Laurier Avenue, in Outremont, it’s great people, but it’s a different clientele. I wanted to have something simpler, more me. The idea of Rosemont came because of the restaurant M sur Masson. It had just opened here, I went to eat there a few times, and I really liked the neighbourhood. And it was instant – we got very busy as soon as we opened, Masson became THE street of Rosemont. It’s a cool neighbourhood, with great people – customers are very open-minded. After about two years we opened a second location on Fleury.

What are some things you love about the neighbourhood?

Jean-Talon Market. It’s so convenient: to get products takes about 10 minutes from my restaurant. I love Chez Nino, Chez Louis, the cheese shop Hamel – they have over 500 varieties of Québec cheeses. More recently, Angus has seen so much development, too. There are great restaurants there, like Hoogan et Beaufort. So beautiful.

Where do you go in the neighbourhood for a coffee?

I don’t drink coffee myself, but I buy the coffee for the restaurant on the corner, at Brûlerie St-Denis on Promenade Masson.

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Where do you go for last-minute provisions?

Near the restaurant there’s Pâtes et Compagnie / William J. Walter Masson, a nice little place where I sometimes get my olive oil and things like aged balsamic vinegar and cheeses. There’s also Citron que c’est bon, a little supermarket on the corner of Masson between 5th and 6th avenue. It’s a cool place for baby herbs and vegetables.

Where do you go to blow off steam after work?

It’s more before work than after, but I like Piri Piri for a little lunch with staff before a shift.

What particular flavour does your restaurant bring to Rosemont?

I think we bring a different twist on Latin food. My menu is half Peruvian, with a modern twist.

What makes people return to Madre again and again?

I guess people come because they like the food! And the service. Customers come back because they feel at home. Madre means “mother” – there’s nothing trendy there. I want to make things that taste good and are affordable, plus you can bring your own wine. Peruvian cuisine is very in right now, as well, so that might also make them come – we get new customers all the time.

What are some Québec products that you use on a regular basis?

In Peruvian cuisine, we love potatoes, corn and chilies. I love Québec potatoes a LOT, especially Yukon Gold. Corn is in season right now – the only thing we don’t have locally is the hot peppers! We get those straight from Peru. I also love Québec carrots, beets, and meats – from pork to veal to ducks and foie gras, it’s all sourced here.

What’s your favourite local ingredient these days?

A couple of years ago, my father brought me seeds of a Peruvian herb called Huacatay, and I planted them in my garden, and now I have Huacatay every summer. They call it Peruvian Black Mint, but it doesn’t taste like mint – it’s a powerful flavour that’s hard to describe. You can use it to make sauces, dressings, you can flavour meats and fish, you can make aioli – it’s the taste of Peru!

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant, blogger

Isa Tousignant is an art and lifestyle writer based out of Montréal’s eclectic Park Ex neighbourhood. She is Contributing Editor for Canadian Art magazine and freelances full-time for a wide variety of magazines and brands. She’s also a jewellery designer and passionate about animal costumes and their role in contemporary art.

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