Meating Chefs – Denis Guiol
Roll out the Barrel
Our Lucky #13 instalment of MEATing Chefs features Denis Guiol, a French immigrant who spent 20 years in Montreal kitchens, before joining the big smoke to helm newly opened Four Barrel Holly’s. Brought to you by the people behind Yonge Street’s Irish Embassy Pub & Grill, FBH boasts many taps of craft beer, a room designed by Type-D Living’s Damon Snider, and an elevated pub menu, fit for Midtowners. The name, a nod to the carburettor, is present in the design; you’ll see automotive touches throughout.
A deep passion for food was instilled in Guiol at an early age by his pastry chef father and his home cook mother, who always fed the family the best of Nice and the Cote d’Azur. “Food is everything, and I feel it is how you build relationships and tell stories,” says Chef, who is “lucky to have seen the world and just experience different foods and cultures, and meals were always the constant,” while his father helped open hotel restaurants in Morocco, Switzerland, and Canada. “This has always been present in my mind, my soul and in my life.” On cooking and being cooked for, we talk about his mom and his fiancée, who loves breakfast – eggs Benedict, pancakes, waffles – for dinner; she also indulges him his love of sandwiches and cold cuts.
Food is everything, and I feel it is how you build relationships and tell stories
Recently, his mom satiated his craving for her soul food – roast chicken, pork chops with baked potatoes, polenta and tomato sauce, beef bourguignon – on a non-union-stop Montreal cook.
The youngest of three brothers, Chef heeded the calling of the kitchen instead of his father. He’s so passionate, he knew he’d excel. FBH was the next logical step, and he’s very thankful to his de facto Montreal industry family for his opportunities, including working alongside greats Chuck Hughes and Joe Mercuri, “which brought me to find a creative style, and discipline, and this point in my career, this continuity, helped me to create this different and radicalal experience that is my opening menu at Holly’s.” He shout-outs to his culinary brothers in YUL – Athiraj Phrasavath, a best friend, and an up-and-coming Laotian chef, as well as Saeng Outhip, and Jellyfish’s Mathieu Duceppe. The chef is attacking the challenge – “Montreal soul with a Toronto heartbeat” – head-on.
Working in a kitchen is tough; you have to be up to the task, or it will chew you up and spit you out.
Right after Anthony Bourdain’s tragic passing, when Chef and I sat down,we spoke, at length, about mental health in the hospitality industry.
Thankfully, the stigmas are being washed away, and people are starting to talk more openly, making sure that the team is okay., paramount for Denis, whose team means everything to him. “R.I.P., Chef Bourdain, you were a voice for the line cook, and for all of us,” says a teary-eyed Guiol.
As part of a kitchen ‘family,’ you work in tough conditions, six days a week, 12 hours a day. This bonding helps Chef stay sane: “I love my brothers, and sometimes I hate them. This goes for my crew in the kitchen, as well. I would go to war for these guys!” This all shows in the attitude, experience, and food at Holly’s. “There are days they love me, and days they hate me,” he says, getting a good chuckle from one of his cooks. “At the end of the day, when we have a beer in our hand[s] and a cigarette in our mouths, we quickly forget the day and everybody is who they are, hopefully, just laughing and joking to end the shift. We try to forget anything bad that happened, and then it is all to be repeated the very next day.”
I love my brothers, and sometimes I hate them. This goes for my crew in the kitchen, as well. I would go to war for these guys!
He loves hanging out in the west end and is inspired by our many talented chefs. After a shift, you’ll likely find him at Cold Tea in Kensington Market, or his favourite Hanmoto, near Ossington. “I just love that place, I fell in love the day I was first brought there by my best friend. The Dino wings, white miso ice cream, all things that inspired me and blew my mind.”
Regarding Four Barrel Holly’s, he hopes people will come, eat and drink, make new friends, and just enjoy their time in the restaurant. “I want to create memories, and that is what I want people to leave here with, good food memories that make them come back again and again.”
I ask him about the meaning of life, and I get a resounding, “Never!”
I follow up with, “Do you want to know?”
“Nope,” he replies.
I ask ,‘Do you care?’
“I don’t, I really don’t care about the meaning of life. Why should I?” Finally, I get a gem out of the 36-year-old: “The only answer is being [sic] true to yourself, and make sure the meaning you have is to be happy, for yourself. Don’t care about what people think, other than those you have in your life that love you for who you are. True love is the meaning of life.” I knew the second I met him that this tough-on-the-outside chef is a softy. “Knowing
the meaning of life means there is no more reason
to be here, and that is the beauty of it, not knowing.
When it is all over, you will know.”
Looking for somewhere to eat in Montreal? I suggest visiting Chef and buying him a shot. He will give you a list of all the hidden gems, fit for a chef, to visit. Just don’t leave without eating as much of the menu as you can, or you will have failed yourself.