Emily Campeau writes about herself, 'Nothing predisposed me to enter the wine world with such intensity but the people I met on the way, the bottles that found me, and the neverending late nights when working in kitchens. Working previously in the kitchen at Hélène Darroze Paris and Racines in New York, I jumped the fence in 2016 to become the Wine Director at Candide in Montreal. Hard to believe someone was crazy enough to offer me that job, but it's been going really well since. I don't like long walks on the beach, I'd rather drink riesling for lunch. I'm allergic to cats, or they are allergic to me. Someone once asked me to marry them because of my recipe of baked beans.' Here's her (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.
I was cooking 100 pigeons a day over open fire in a chic upscale Parisian restaurant. The coals would get so hot that the buttons of my chef coat would leave rounds burn marks all over my chest. I strongly believe my blood had been replaced back then by a glorious mix of adrenaline, meat jus, and duck fat. At the time I was navigating through a poisonous relationship with a man and I'm still not sure who drove who crazier during our long, competitive spiral downward. The fact that we worked in the same restaurant where he was my superior didn't help, nor that we lived together in a crammed 6th floor apartment overlooking the storefront of one of the best charcutier in France, Gilles Vérot, Champion du Monde de Fromage de Tête. I worked ninety hours a week, surviving on a very healthy diet of Guinness and strawberry yogurt, while I was making my way to the top. We're all champions of something.
That man and I, let's call him Roger for this story, despite our tendency to be extremely shitty to each other, shared a love for precise, professional Michelin-star cooking. Still to this day I have yet to find someone more clever and elegant when touching food, and as soon as I set foot in that kitchen, I decided I was going to do all in my power to move as fluently as Roger. We fell in love under the burning sun of the 2009 summer in Paris, working from mornings to midnights. We talked about all the places we'd go eat and all the restaurants we'd open, while drinking Muscadet straight from the bottle (I owned no glassware) and chainsmoking Marlboros in my twin-size bed on rue du Temple. Needless to say we didn't sleep much, between conquering each other's bodies, and waking up before dawn to be in the kitchen on time. I still don't know which of these two feelings made my head spin the most.
I moved to France officially in December 2009, both to explore where Roger & I would end up, and to see if I had what it took to be a member of the French Cooking Elite. « Complicated vintage », you will tell me, and looking back almost ten years later I couldn't agree more. We moved into his place on rue de Vaugirard, and settled effortlessly into a half-bumpy half-idyllic lifestyle of crazy kitchen life, where the only thing we did as much as fight was to be in the sort of love fueled mostly by mass-made French beer and cheap wine. There is nothing Roger and I shared more during these years than our absolutely unquenchable thirst.
And then it turned a corner one day. I mean it literally turned a corner, because around the block,an incredible natural wine shop, Le Vin en Tête,had just opened its new outpost. You know that feeling of knowing that you are making better choices for yourself? The same feeling when you stop eating the Kraft blue boxes to make your very first real mac'n'cheese with good cheddar, cream, lots of black pepper, and maybe some lobster if it's close to payday? I walked through Le Vin en Tête's door and probably into adulthood all at once. I still don't know if I have evertaken another step into adulthood since.
French kitchens have this afternoon break called coupure, and seeing as this wine shop was conveniently placed in the 6 minute walk to work twice a day, we quickly became regulars at LVET so as to keep trying to quench our aforementioned thirsts. One great thing about wine-producing countries is that you can drink very well for very little money. As gangster as I thought I was for working in a Top French Restaurant, I was still cruelly underpaid, earning a mere 1100 euros a month. The amazing man who was tending the shop, let's call him Didier for the story, remains to this day one of the first people I trusted with my eyes closed as he was putting bottle after bottle into our newbie hands. I still don't know to this day if my trust was helped by the fact that he was wearing shirts very obviously knitted by his Mom and/or because he was systematically giving us 20% off.
Didier was my entry into the vast natural wine world; I drank bottles in the like of the first vintage of Petit Chablis ever vinified by Athénaïs de Béru, I discovered Gilles Azzoni, drank Julien Meyer's Mer et Coquillages, and on jours de fête, we'd pick something from the top shelf, like Pacalet, or Allemand, or that ONE specific bottle he chose one day that made my world explode. My memory serves me well, and I can trace back every second from pulling the cork to the last drop on my tongue. I was finally giving in to becoming someone who likes wine. This bottle led me to right here where I am now on this hot August day: wine director of one of Montreal's most celebrated restaurants. That bottle was a Morgon Côte de Py from Jean Foillard, vintage 2009. « Complicated vintage » you will tell me: too hot, too ripe, overrated, underrated, drink now, drink in 5 years, drink yesterday. I didn't know anything, and I still don't, but only the sheer pleasure of sharing a life-changing wine with someone for whom I had deep feelings.
I walked out of Le Vin en Tête for the last time in January 2013, saying goodbye to Didier, or a very cheerful « à bientôt » rather, before jumping on a plane to come back to winter wonderland in Montreal. I still think about Roger sometimes. I think about the bottles I drank after I left him. I think about the ones he picked without me after I was gone. I still feel pretty clueless about a lot of things, but of one thing I am certain: this bottle of Foillard shaped the course of my life. A lot more than Roger did.