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Food & Wine Celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivée next ambition: ‘I want to be the Google of Canadian food’

Chef Ricardo Larrivée

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Lunch with Ricardo Larrivée, the Quebec food personality, is a smorgasbord of recipe swapping, celebrity gossip, politics and spicy black-pepper tofu. It's quite a mouthful. Then again, so is he.

Throughout the meal, Larrivée doesn't stop talking.

"Is it too much?" he asks several times. Apparently, Larrivée has a lot on his mind. His TV series Ricardo, which is broadcast on Radio Canada, has just entered its 13th season, making it the country's longest-running cooking show. Larrivée also has several best-selling cookbooks to his name and a bilingual website that receives more than two-million clicks a month. But if Larrivée – Ricardo to his fans – is big in Quebec, his home province, he is less of a household name in the rest of the nation. He's hoping to change that with Ricardo, an English-language magazine that launched in September.

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"I wanted to be the first Quebec guy on the Food Network," says Larrivée. "I wanted to be the first Quebec guy to have his own magazine. I wanted to be the first one syndicated to the world. Now, I want to be loved by the rest of the country. At least I hope the rest of the country will appreciate what I am trying to do as much as Quebec does."

To launch the glossy publication's first issue, Larrivée, who's 47, hired a staff of English-speaking writers and editors to distinguish it from the original Frenchlanguage edition, which launched in Quebec 12 years ago and has an annual circulation of 740,000.

An earlier version, translated from the French edition, ran for a year in the mid-oughts. It was published by Gesca, which owned a majority stake in Ricardo Media. In 2009, Larrivée and his wife and business partner, Brigitte Coutu, regained sole ownership of the company, initially focusing on increased television production, a new cookware line, a winery in South Africa and the website. An English magazine was always part of the long-term plan.

While Ricardo includes recipes from its sister French-language title, including Larrivée's famed chocolate-chip cookies, "it is not a translation," he says.

"In Quebec at Thanksgiving, we don't eat turkey," Larrivée points out. "For us, it is not such a big deal. It's more a holiday for cleaning up the house. So I did a turkey for the English version, because that is what everyone expects. But for the French, I did chicken." It's an important distinction to him.

"You have to be sensitive to things like that," Larrivée says. "No one else would think to do it. To my knowledge, there is no other food magazine like it dedicated to the way Canadians really eat."

Being attuned to all of Canada and to all Canadians is a point of pride for Larrivée. He mastered English in his early 20s, working for the CBC in Saskatchewan, his first media job. Until then, Larrivée had lived only in Quebec. He has a degree in hotel management and studied broadcasting in Ottawa before becoming a food journalist for La Presse.

For Larrivée, food is the ultimate nation builder, and it starts with the family meal. "And by family, I mean gay couples, childless couples, couples with kids – however you want to define it," he says. "The main thing is eating a meal together, for more than 15 minutes a day. There are statistics to support that a couple that eats together stays together. There's less obesity, fewer social issues and less divorce."

Family values are so important to Larrivée and Coutu, a nutritionist and president of Ricardo Media (Larrivée is chairman of the board), that he has a set of "rules" written into his employees' contracts.

"The rules ask that you know that at the end of the day it's all about family, about loving one another, being kind and gentle and focused on achieving our goal of being the best and always reaching for the top," says Larrivée, who lives with Coutu and their three daughters in Chambly, Que. "Anyone who doesn't agree will be happy working somewhere else."

Next on his plate is a new 40,000-square-foot building in Saint-Lambert, a suburb of Montreal, that will serve as company headquarters. The converted printing shop will also house Espace Ricardo, a kind of "Canadian Williams-Sonoma," according to Larrivée, which will stock everything from cookware to food, including Mama Chocka chocolates, made by an entrepreneurial employee he's mentoring. The complex will also feature a green roof, a communal fireplace, a coffee bar, a barn and a test kitchen. Scheduled to open mid-November, it's where Larrivée plans to cook up his next big thing.

"I want to be the Google of Canadian food," he says. "I want to build a legacy for the future, something that outlasts me."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the square footage of the building in Saint-Lambert.

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