A world-renowned chef, co-owner of two of the most well-known restaurants in Montreal, television personality, and the man in charge of keeping some of the biggest names in the music industry fed at Osheaga and Heavy Montreal alike, Chuck Hughes rarely takes a break between projects. But, if he's not in front of a stove or traveling the world to make an appearance, chances are that you'll see him on a rink or watching the Canadiens battle it out for NHL supremacy. We caught up with the 39-year-old chef before festival season got underway to learn more about his love for the CH.
How long have you been a Canadiens fan?
CHUCK HUGHES: I've been a fan since I was a kid. On the other hand, my biological father was a fan of the Flyers and the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970s. The first jersey that I ever got - and I still have it today - was a Flyers jersey in 1976. When you can barely speak, you don't have a choice but to wear it. (Laughs) But, when I was younger, I loved the Canadiens. That passion for the team was passed on to me by my adoptive father. I knew all the Canadiens players and the players on the other teams, too, because I collected all the cards I could get my hands on.
Who was your favorite player as a kid?
CH: Back then, my favorite player was Stephane Richer. I met him a few times recently, and I was taken aback by just how strong he was. When I was younger, I thought that he was a talented player, a finesse player who scored goals all of the time. Being a pretty physically imposing guy myself, I didn't think he'd be more imposing than me. I was speechless.
What's been your favorite Canadiens moment up until now?
CH: Winning the Stanley Cup back in 1993 was incredible, but I think Guy Lafleur's return to Montreal when he was with the Rangers was very special. I was at the Forum that night. I heard so many stories about him from my mother. She was a flight attendant with Quebecair at the time. That was the airline the Canadiens used. I've actually got a story that happened recently that's tied to the Canadiens, though. Many years ago, my biological father played baseball in the Detroit Tigers' farm system for a team in Drummondville. After being forced to retire because of an injury, he stayed in the area and became a coach. This past season at the Bell Centre, I had the chance to visit the Alumni Room and I met Yvon Lambert. While we were talking, he told me that my family name was familiar and I looked a lot like one of his baseball coaches as a kid. It was actually my father. Yvon told me that he was one of the best baseball players he knew. It was very emotional because I don't know many stories about him.
Did you play a lot of hockey as a kid?
CH: I started to play when I was four years old. I was a good player, but I was a little bit shy out there. I needed to play in another town because there weren't teams where I was living in Saint-Sauveur.
You've been known to take part in early-morning hockey games at the Bell Centre. Has that changed since you had your first child and have a second on the way?
CH: I still go when I have time, twice a week at 6:30 a.m.! When you get to the Bell Centre with your hockey bag and you take the time to look at the ice and the stands, it really makes you feel something special. Sitting on the same bench as [Max] Pacioretty and P.K. [Subban] is really like living out a childhood dream because I imagine myself, just for a second, being an NHLer.
How often do you see Canadiens players at your restaurants?
CH: The guys come by a lot during the season. I like when they visit, but I try not to talk to them too much. I think that's what really gives us a good reputation with them. It was the same thing when Mick Jagger came by for dinner one night. It was really cool, but I didn't make a big deal out of it. I'm really proud that players like Pacioretty come by, but if I want them to come back I need to keep the restaurant experience as normal as possible.
Who would you consider your best client to be?
CH: Lars Eller comes to Bremner often, at least once a week I'd say. Pacioretty, Jeff Petry and Greg Pateryn come by often, too, when they have some free time. But, the guy who really started to establish the link between the team and our restaurants was Kirk Muller back when he was an assistant coach. He came by a lot.
Have players from other NHL teams heard about your restaurants and visited when they're in Montreal?
CH: We're really on the radar of teams across the NHL. One night, I even had both Maple Leafs goaltenders sitting right next to two Canadiens players at the bar…and they were going to play one another the next night! They all know each other, but it's funny. We have good clients on other teams like Erik Karlsson, Max Talbot, Kristopher Letang, Claude Giroux and even Luc Robitaille. The Kings come to Montreal once a year and they always come see us.
Are you just as shy to approach players as you used to be a few years back when we last spoke to you?
CH: (Laughs) A little bit less because I got to know them. I know how hard they work to stay at their level. Being a hockey player myself - not of the same calibre, of course - I have a great deal of respect for what they do. When a big chef comes by to try our dishes, I'm honored. But, I'm a chef and that's my work. When hockey players pay us a visit, it's a life that I didn't have and that I would have liked to experience.
While one of your specialties would you prepare for the players after a big win?
CH: After a big win, they often come by in a group. We generally don't do special plates, but it's usually a nice big steak with potatoes. On the other hand, I know they tend to eat chicken and pasta. (Laughs) When it comes to pasta, I can fix them something because I always have fresh pasta available. I rarely have chicken, though.
You have a TV installed at Bremner so people could watch games. At Garde Manger, though, there isn't one. Do people often ask you to install one at that restaurant, too?
CH: I'm the only one who wanted a television. All of the other partners didn't. Over the last few years during the playoffs, we went around between tables with a little board that had the score on it. We still do that. But, next year I'll put my foot down to install one at Garde Manger.
You have a pretty busy schedule. Do you get a chance to watch Canadiens games sometimes?
CH: I actually arranged my schedule to work Tuesdays and Thursdays at Bremner so I can watch the games while working. (Laughs) I definitely can't watch them all, but I try to watch as many as I can.