Marc Cohen is the co-owner, along with Sefi Amir, of three now-iconic businesses perched at the corner of Boulevard St-Laurent and Fairmount: Boucherie Lawrence, a butcher shop and provisions store that saw many Montrealers through the pandemic, Larrys, an all-day dining and hangout, and Lawrence, the pair's 25-seat fine-dining, market-driven restaurant.
Now open for à la carte and a carte blanche menu Thursday, Friday (for both lunch and dinner), and Saturday, Cohen is Lawrence’s sole chef, and he loves it that way. "It's the best version of the restaurant so far," Cohen confides.
Read on for personal insights into a day in the life of the chef, plus his favourite recipe to put together on his day off.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
How does your work week unfold?
It's taken many years to get into a flow that works for me creatively and physically. Cooking on my own now at Lawrence, I feel like I work more in terms of weeks rather than in days—it's an arc.
Usually on Mondays I'll get the list of what's available from my suppliers, like Parcelles, la Ferme des Quatre Temps, and La Mer, so I’ll be able to think about what I'm going to cook. Wednesday is my prep day, when I figure out new dishes. By Thursday, when we print the menu, everything's in my head and most of the deep prep is done. On Fridays, we have lunch service from 12pm onwards; by the time service winds down around 3pm, we'll clean up and do a reset for dinner. Saturdays, I usually have an eye on the next week: If I can make a stock or a sauce then, it will make my next Wednesday a bit gentler.
On Sunday, I want to stay in my pyjamas—and on Monday nights I play seven-a-side football, not particularly seriously. I just need a ball to chase.
What’s your process for creating a dish?
Often my process will involve thinking about ingredients whose seasons are co-existing, and I'll have a feeling about things that will go together nicely. Like my week, the dishes have an arc, too—like when peas first come out, they're beautiful and bright and small and sweet, but as time goes on I have to treat them differently.
A few years ago I would have said to myself: I'm going to do a menu planning session, and I'd sit down with a pad and some books. And it was stressful, because I'd get a creative block and then only have an hour to do get it done. Over the years, I've honed my system, and I know I can't force it. I know now I work better passively by thinking about the menu a bit every day.
Do you ever get stumped?
Sometimes I'll have an idea for an extremely simple dish that relies on really amazing produce: Dom Labelle's vegetables from Parcelles are a joy to work with in the summertime, for example. A few weeks ago, I was going to make a tomato dish—a really simple tomato salad with a couple of other ingredients, like smoked sheep yogurt and lovage—but it just didn't seem like a restaurant dish. I spent the day trying to figure it out, but in the end I needed to just sleep on it and try again the next morning.
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it, and again when I was in the shower the next morning. But by the time I got here, I knew what I was going to do, and got the dish together first thing when I got in. It had gently poached lobster with tomatoes, smoked yogurt, cumin, and chopped fennel—so all those same ingredients, still true to what was on the menu, but more like a lobster salad. And I'm really happy with it.
And the soundtrack when you’re cooking?
During football season, I have my laptop on the counter and I just watch every game that there is, in the background. At that point, it's my dream job, watching football and cooking on my own. It doesn't get much better than that.
Continue scrolling for one of Marc Cohen's original recipes!
Cucumbers, nduja and dripping toast
A recipe by Chef Marc Cohen, Lawrence
"This is a dish built around convenience and contrast," says Lawrence chef Marc Cohen.
On his days off, Cohen prefers not to leave the house. And while he and his partner aren't always the best at grocery shopping, they do want to eat something delicious that takes less than five minutes to make. Using pantry ingredients, a few years ago he invented his signature stay-at-home dish: toast, lots of butter, peanut butter, cucumbers, olive oil and kimchi. "I know it sounds odd, but it's amazing," he says.
In this recipe—riffing off that glorified peanut butter toast—he subs the PB and kimchi for homemade 'nduja (a spicy, fermented, spreadable sausage made primarily from pork fat and red peppers), brushes the bread with animal fat, uses beautiful cucumbers from Parcelles, and adds some bright notes, to render this toast elevated fare.
"The success of the dish is mostly in the contrasts it offers: hot against cold, richness against acidity, crunchy against soggy, dry against juicy, deep savouriness against brightness, spicy against whatever the opposite of spicy is," Cohen says, and we can’t wait to try it.
- 1 slice day old sourdough bread
- 10g rendered animal fat
- 30g 'nduja
- As much butter as you’re willing to consume
- A couple of nice cucumbers
- Juice of 1 lime
- Olive oil
- A few leaves of lemon verbena
- A few grinds of prickly ash pepper (sansho pepper or another kind of Szechuan pepper could also work)
- Brush the sourdough bread with the animal fat. If you happen to have a barbecue going, toast the bread directly on the grill. If not, put the bread in a hot oven and turn it a couple of times until it's quite crisp. Whichever method you use, make sure the bread is very well toasted so that it can withstand the juiciness of the cucumbers when they meet later.
- Slice the cucumbers thinly and dress with salt, lime juice, olive oil and lime juice. Over-salt them slightly because once they sit for a few minutes, they will have mellowed out.
- Spread the butter on the hot toast, followed by the 'nduja. Pile the cucumbers on top of the toast and finish with the torn lemon verbena leaves and the prickly ash pepper.
- Eat immediately before the hot toast gets cold and the cold cucumbers get hot!
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