Tourtière Time

Will Riel Be Houston's First French-Canadian Restaurant?

In a word, no. But Manitoban and Lithuanian cuisines are major influences on chef Ryan LaChaine.

By Alice Levitt September 16, 2016

Ryan lachaine ibks24

Some chefs wear toques, Ryan LaChaine wears a tuque.

If gravy fries with squeaky cheese curds began dancing in your head when you heard that Winnipeg native chef Ryan LaChaine was opening a restaurant that paid homage to his roots, it's time to shift your expectations. "There is not going to be poutine," LaChaine says with certainty. 

In fact, the small plates menu at Riel, the restaurant he'll open at 1927 Fairview Street in mid-November ("Fingers crossed," says LaChaine) with Jason Poon and Mechelle Tran, hasn't really been conceived yet. "Construction is just finally going. The menu is the last thing you’re worried about," he explains. There are a few things the executive chef knows, though. A small plates menu will include about 15 items at any given time, along with a single large plate, perhaps a whole fish or big steak, on a given night, LaChaine says. Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar is consulting on sweets, though LaChaine says there will be no more than three desserts at a time. 

Yes, the cuisine will have influences both from Canada and LaChaine's maternal Ukrainian side, but he says of Riel, "It's not necessarily going to be super Ukrainian or super French-Canadian." The Gulf Coast cuisine that he cooked as sous-chef at Reef and Underbelly will inform his fare at least as much, likely more, due to a focus on local ingredients. LaChaine says that he'll be getting food from all of the "usual suspect" farmers market regulars, as well as several farms and purveyors that have reached out to him via the Riel Facebook page. Though Houston-area farms get priority, he says he'll go as far as he needs to for the best ingredients. "We’re not going to use local ****. Just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s good," he says. Menus will change frequently as ingredients cycle in and out of availability.

The expected diversity of Riel's cuisine is the reason LaChaine chose the restaurant's name, he says. Louis Riel was the first and last president of the provisional government of Saskatchewan and founder of Manitoba. Initially LaChaine thought that Riel (the Francophone defended the mixed-race First Nations and European people known as the Métis against the English-speaking Canadian government), seemed like almost too obvious a namesake for his restaurant. Until he noticed most Americans had never heard of him, that is. This made him realize that he could educate his diners about Riel's story (he was executed in 1885 for his part in the North-West Rebellion) as well as about the food and wine he'll serve. 

For the nine diners seated at a time at the chef's counter, the story may come from LaChaine himself, who says he enjoys cooking in an open kitchen. There will also be room for 65 diners at tables, as well as eight seats at the bar. 

And LaChaine won't be the only Canadian in the kitchen for long. Shortly after opening, he plans to begin hosting a series of dinners on which he'll collaborate with out-of-town chefs. Friends he'll host will include Scott Vivian of Beast in Toronto, Montréal restaurant Le Bremner's Danny Smiles and Mandel Hitzer of Winnipeg's Deer & Almond.

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