Montréal en Lumière: A Dazzling Food Festival

Montréal knows how to party during snow or sunshine
Erik Mathes
The Alcatraz dessert: A prisoner escaping on a raft.

If you’ve been wondering what it would be like to party your poutine off inside a titanic, twinkling snow globe, I’ve got news that’ll brighten your day: the next Montréal en Lumière is less than nine months away, and it offers the closest conceivable alternative to making your farfetched, frosty fantasy come true. Mark your calendar.

Even if you’ve relegated the thought of dealing with low temperatures to the furthest recesses of your memory, you’re probably thinking: “Wait a second: Just what exactly is this Montréal en Lumière all a-boot?” (in your most exaggerated Canadian accent, of course). You’re also probably like: “Nine months sounds like a long time; what am I gonna do until then if I want a fix of Montréal festivals now?” Don’t get icicles in your pajamas: later, I’ll tell you about two major fests in the next couple of months that will tide you over ‘til February 2015.

(Also, I’m 97% sure you’re butchering the pronunciation of “Lumiere” (hint: it’s not “Lou Meer”) and you wouldn’t want to feel the sting of any more dirty looks from French Canadians than they’re already going to give you for screwing up their other words, so here.)

Now that you’ve honed your elocution of Quebecois French, let’s delve into the details of MEL via a familiar comparison: it’s the Northern answer to Mardi Gras, as they strike around the same time each year, substituting French onion soup, smoked meat sandwiches, parkas, and an enchanting, snowy setting in place of New Orleans’ signature gumbo, po’ boys, bead necklaces, and boozy parades. Instead of rambunctious crawfish boils at Audubon Park fueled by tipsy tourists, Tulane students, and truckloads of Turbodog, you’ll find ski bums, socialites and students from McGill intermingling around public fire pits on Rue Sainte Catherine, toasting marshmallows and roasting cocktail franks on wooden skewers as snowflakes settle on the tips of their noses.

MEL beverages of choice are Labatt Blue and hot apple cider, although anything Molson will certainly do, and a few ice luge shots chased with rum punch will definitely do you dirty if you prefer that path. But let’s not get too concerned with alcohol, as this festival is not just about getting wasted outdoors in the dead of winter; it’s about evoking the senses through artistry in every possible way. For those who can handle a chill and find thrills in theater, art exhibitions, live music, and food-focused festivities, this is something to put at the pinnacle of your must-do list.

The week-and-a-half celebration spans three districts of the city on the island, and has a program featuring hundreds of chefs and artists, blending gastronomy, art and music in a way that enables attendees with a broad range of tastes to customize their own ideal itinerary. The permutations are aplenty, so if you and your friends can’t agree on a plan, it’s all good; you’ll be able to split up without a hitch until you find an event that no one wants to miss. Most importantly, the city is safe (although be wary of boisterous McGill frat bros and pickpockets in packed places) and easy to navigate, with trains, taxis, free shuttles, and public buses to whip you around with relative ease.

There really is something for everyone. Whether you prefer house and electronic or indie, rock and folk, you’ll find sounds to sate your soul. Whether your idea of stimulating art involves charcoal sketches and oil paintings, gargantuan sculptures (made of cardboard, perhaps), stand-up comedy shows, or dramatic plays, you won’t have trouble finding any of the above, with an array of options in each category. And whether you’re looking for a candlelit dinner with steak tartare and foie gras at a fancy French restaurant, or a raucous feast where you’ll feel inclined to make fast friends at your forty-foot-long, fifty-seat-strong banquet table, you’ll find culinary happenings to suit your every whim. Don’t feel bad for missing it this year -- this happens every MEL.

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