Born of an American mother and a Guatemalan father, nothing predicted that Roberto Porres, the restaurateur behind Barroco and Bocata, would come to Quebec to develop a career. He discovered Montreal through a student exchange (computer studies, no less) program and quickly caught the bug for everything that represents the city.
“I grew up in a southern U.S. culture, which was very warm and hospitable. Montreal culture looks a bit like that; it’s a nice mix of European and North American, but less saturated and less aggressive than the US. I decided to stay and it’s been over 15 years!”
Having gradually worked at all levels of the restaurant business, from café employee to restaurant manager, he doesn’t hide the fact that his passion grew very quickly, to the point that he wanted to open his own place and control most decisions himself. “I went around and I wanted to be involved in all aspects of the restaurant, including the menu, music, staff, and the presentation.”
You could say that Barroco opened quite naturally, even if the young 26 year old entrepreneur didn’t know all the basics of starting a business, including the sheer number of hours of hard work. Work that according to Porres is not really work “If it’s your passion, it’s not a job. You have to love it! The food you eat, the music you hear, the people you see, the wine you drink; all the elements of a restaurant, they must do something for you. That’s what allows one to work so many hours without resenting it.”
The hours accumulated rapidly, thanks to a restaurant concept that wasn’t quite so widespread a few years back. The stone walls and wooden beams at Barroco charmed the owner, who was looking for that spirit of hospitality and friendliness from his American roots. “I really feel at home, and I think that in Quebec, especially in Montreal, people like places that remind them of a little cottage. It feels warm in the summer, but especially during the winter you feel like you can stay here for hours. The idea of an urban cottage is what inspired all the rest.”
Kinds of food we’d like to eat at home, served in pans and on wooden planks, square napkins, denim aprons, etc., all these aspects were part of a movement that was in its infancy when they opened:
“It was daring to be more cozy, without necessarily altering the haute cuisine. Plating that’s too fancy doesn’t speak to me. It’s a lot of work for nothing and I think we really need to present our meals clearly; they are of course healthy and appetizing, but it’s still just a plate. We don’t need to stray too far from our basic human instincts, eating is very natural. You have to respect food, not manipulate it too much.”
Despite the resounding success of his first effort, there was more than enough reason for Porres and his associates to launch a new project. In addition, the adjacent space was available. Le Bocata opened less than two years later. This time, the concept was anchored around fish and seafood with a slightly more relaxed and accessible atmosphere. Nearly six years later, Bocata has not budged; Porres doesn’t make too many mistakes.
Even as success follows him at every turn, the restaurant remains very realistic in the face of so many challenges: “The biggest challenge, I think, is it’s not the glamorous side of the job; there are financials, budgets. Yes you must let yourself get carried away with your passions because it is motivating, but you also learn to control yourself somewhat, finding the right balance between the two.”
Porres no doubt has the key to this balance, which perhaps also explains why he’s launching another project this May, Le Foiegwa. A play on the dessert “foie gras”, the idea began as a hashtag on Barroco’s social networks to make something upscale more accessible. Based on a growing trend of diners, Le Foiegwa serves French classics in the heart of Saint Henri.
And that’s not all! Just behind the brewery, the group will open the Atwater Cocktail Club, an underground type bar where you can enter through the alley.
He chooses team members according to their passion rather than their experience. In fact almost all servers are also sommeliers, demonstrating, he said, their real interest in this kind of work. Porres has no desire to move again; the Barroco paella, Porres’ favorite, is more than enough to keep him happy!
312, St-Paul Street West
310, St-Paul Street West