Yves Boisvert is a columnist for La Presse.
On a Montrealer's Top 10 list of things that there are too many of in the city, you probably will find potholes, road blocks and squirrels.
But restaurants? How can there ever be too many restaurants?
It's true: Some of the province's top chefs who contributed to the city's food buzz now believe there are too many new kids on their block.
David McMillan, co-owner of the celebrated Joe Beef, lamented that, "in Montreal, anybody can ask for a restaurant permit and get it right away."
"I couldn't pretend to be a plumber tomorrow morning or start working as an electrician all of a sudden," he told The Canadian Press.
"I don't believe in a free market any more," added Carlos Ferreira, owner of Ferreira Café, a well-established downtown Portuguese restaurant. "We have to protect good restaurants."
The food scene is something Montrealers can brag about. It is amazingly diverse, original and affordable.
Every once in a while, a U.S. publication lauds Montreal chefs and tables. Be it in Condé Nast, Town and Country or the New York Times, North American foodies are often urged to experience Montreal restaurants.
According to certain surveys, Montreal has the record number of restaurants per capita in North America – more than San Francisco or New York. Other data suggest Toronto has more – but in any case, statistics don't distinguish between high-end tables such as Toqué, and hot dog and poutine joints.
The lack of distinction is precisely the point, argues chef Daniel Vézina, owner of Laurie Raphaël restaurants, in Quebec City and in Montreal. "Anybody can open a restaurant. It has to change," he said.
Some streets in new fashionable districts are so overcrowded by restaurants that boroughs have voted by-laws establishing a mandatory distance between two restaurants.
For Mr. Ferreira, the trouble comes not from quality competitors but from fly-by-night operators trying to capitalize on the last foodie wave, and closing six months later.
Indeed, if Montreal is not the champion by the number of tables, it is undoubtedly the Canadian champion for restaurant bankruptcies. With profit margins around 2.7 per cent, long hours, high staff turnover and ferocious competition, success is hard to achieve.
The only requirement to get a permit is mandatory training in cleanliness. Knowing how not to poison the patrons is enough.
But, if more stipulations should come into consideration, who will be permitted to open a restaurant? Do you need a degree? Then we would not have Le Mousso, rated a "très grande table" by Gault & Millau: The owner, Antonin Mousseau-Rivard is a brilliant self-taught chef.
Do we want bureaucrats to rule the number of Italian or French restaurants by boroughs?
For years, chefs in Quebec have glamourized their trade in countless TV shows. We have witnessed Au Pied de Cochon's Falstaffian chef Martin Picard cook moose testicles on his show. We have seen haute-cuisine contests by the dozens, recipe-makers of all sorts showing off their skills on television.
So it's no wonder that the new generation who want to make it as chefs are trying to make it big, and make it now. Why should we change the rules to protect the older generations?
And as tough as the competition may be, rivalry has certainly always been one of the keys to creativity and innovation in the kitchen.