It’s hard to believe Marc-Alexandre Mercier was a picky kid who used to upset his mom by refusing to eat almost everything except sweets. Today, the 28-year-old chef and co-owner of Hôtel Herman in Montreal’s thriving Mile End neighbourhood cooks horse, bone marrow, duck hearts and kidney for his packed woodsy-urban dining room.
If that all sounds a little heavy, however, it isn’t, at least not in Mercier’s hands: The young chef has a light, sophisticated touch honed from experiences in Italy, France and Denmark, where he worked a salumeria and Michelin-starred kitchens including world-famous Noma in Copenhagen.
Sadly, the situation in his own kitchen at Park and Bernard is a bit different. “I’m only home about eight hours in 24 so I don’t have a chance to cook,” he laments. And while many chefs might have nothing more than a bottle of Champagne and a jar of olives in the fridge, Mercier’s isn’t even plugged in. But as the restaurant approaches its first birthday, Mercier is determined to trim his hours and regain some personal space. First chance he gets, he’s plugging in the fridge and having friends over for this delicate, decadent lobster salad. And maybe some cold Champagne.
Grilled Lobster, Onion and Asparagus Salad
4 to 6 lobsters (1 per person), about 1½ pounds each and at least one female
2 litres (plus 3 tbsp) water
1 medium carrot
5 onions, 1 yellow, 4 red
1 celery stalk
1 cup white wine
1 cup (plus 1 tbsp) grapeseed or canola oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound green asparagus, ends snapped off
1½ tablespoon Chardonnay vinegar
1 bunch chervil
½ bunch parsley
To kill lobsters quickly, plunge the tip of a sharp knife into the abdomen and through the head of each one. Split lengthwise and remove claws, setting bodies aside to keep cool. In a deep saucepan, combine 2 litres water, peeled yellow onion, celery, ½ lemon and wine and bring to a simmer. Cook claws in simmering water for 5 to 7 minutes. Crack and remove meat.
While a gas or charcoal grill heats to medium high, blanche asparagus in salted water for 30 seconds; transfer to ice bath. Drain and set aside. Peel red onion and slice into 1-inch-thick rounds. Toss with 2 teaspoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until cooked through but still firm. In a small bowl, vigorously mix 3 tablespoons oil with 1½ tablespoons vinegar, salt and pepper until well combined. Arrange asparagus, onions and fresh herbs on a serving platter and toss with dressing.
Scoop out about 2 tablespoons roe from female lobster bodies and cook in a small pan with 3 tablespoons water until bright red. Cool down. Make an emulsion with the roe as you would a mayonnaise, adding remaining oil slowly in a thin stream while whisking or running food processor. Season with juice of a lemon and salt.
Separate lobster bodies from tails and discard bodies or reserve for another use. Season tails with salt and pepper and cook on hot grill for 30 to 45 seconds, leaving meat medium rare and delicate. Remove tail meat from shell and lay over vegetables and herbs, serving with seasoned mayonnaise.