Derek Dammann: bringing back the tavern

“Gastropub is a bad word to describe it,” Dammann says of his new Maison Publique. “The easiest way to describe what I’m doing is a tavern. It’s sort of a lost thing here in Montreal — taverns are almost dead.”

DAMMANN: Bringing fine cuisine to the tavern
Photo by Dan Haber

Montreal chef Derek Dammann has had a busy year.

The Old Montreal restaurant that the Victoria native opened with Alex Cruz in 2008, DNA (for Derek ‘n’ Alex, natch), did wonders for Montreal’s culinary reputation up until its closing in early June.

But Dammann isn’t slowing down. This September will bear the fruits of his new effort as his partnership with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver materializes at the corner of Gilford and Marquette. Maison Publique — the direct translation for “public house” and later, “pub” — will provide Plateau denizens with high-quality fare at more affordable prices.

“What’s different about this place — without going into too much detail — is that I want it to be a neighbourhood place. DNA was a destination because it came with a price tag. I want to make this place accessible to everyone in the neighbourhood,” Dammann tells me.

At the high-end DNA, Dammann carefully crafted amazing food and flavour combinations, a culinary treat for those who could afford the experience.

But he honed his palate and skills first at Oliver’s Fifteen, in London, where he went from sous-chef to chef de cuisine in six months over a decade ago.

“I’ve known Jamie for over 12 years, and when DNA closed, we were talking and he said if I wanted help he was willing to [provide it], so that was it,” Dammann says.

And although he only worked at Fifteen for a few years before leaving London on a one-way ticket to Montreal, the two men remain close. Oliver’s help was instrumental in making Dammann’s dream restaurant a reality.

“He invested and helped out with getting started — you know, because we’re cooks, we don’t have the money. It’s very hard, because you have a dream and a vision. A lot of times, people are willing to invest, but I’ve learned you want to have people that see that same vision. I told Jamie about the project and everything and he was gung-ho.”

The vision he speaks of is one of creating a more accessible dining experience.

He wants to continue offering quality food using quality products, and will use the same suppliers from his DNA days.

With no set courses and lots of different-sized dishes to choose from and share, he wants to encourage people to be interactive with their food. Dammann is also working with some local breweries to have about five beers on tap, a good selection of bottles and even growlers.

But Maison Publique will not simply be reduced to the combination of food and beer.

“Gastropub is a bad word to describe it. The easiest way to describe what I’m doing is a tavern. It’s sort of a lost thing here in Montreal — taverns are almost dead, so I want to bring back that tavern feel where it’s dark, cozy, and it’s all wood and welcoming,” he says.

A soft opening of Maison Publique is scheduled for mid-September, but if you can’t wait a whole month to check out Dammann’s food, go see him this weekend at the Omnivore World Tour as it makes a three-day pit stop at the SAT — he’ll be there Aug. 18 with DNA partner Cruz.

You can also catch him the following day (Aug. 19) at Café Sardine, where he’ll be sharing the kitchen with friend and fellow chef Grégory Marchand, from Frenchie in Paris, for a Maudit Souper. Reserve by email:

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