In late November, Gabriel Drapeau — the former executive chef of the Joe Beef Group — announced that he was leaving restaurants in order to take on the role of Director of Culinary Operations at the ready-made meal company WeCook. For some, it read as selling out, to others it sounded a lot more like getting out. For Drapeau, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to hitch his wagon star. Meal kits of all kinds have been the star of the COVID-era dining scene, or if not the star then perhaps the clear winner of the best food-related pivot, with many new companies having launched this year after most of the major brands saw record profits in 2020. I, for one, was admittedly a bit skeptical but I was reassured by a single truth: Gab Drapeau is an extraordinary cook. I don’t know Gab well but when I asked people who do, they invariably told me one thing: “He’s intense.” Whether the intensity is around food, fitness, or mixed martial arts, Gab commits 100%.
After the shock of his announcement wore off and the dust from his former boss Dave McMillan’s departure from restaurants settled, I spoke with Gabriel Drapeau about leaving Joe Beef and what it means for WeCook.
Clay Sandhu: So, give me the spiel — how did this whole thing come to be?
Gabriel Drapeau: First of all, WeCook, back in the day, used to be called Nutrition Fit Plus. The co-founders Étienne and Jonathan Roy and I had a friend in common, his name is Olivier Aubin-Mercier — he’s one of the top lightweight fighters in Quebec and in Canada. We all knew each other and we were all training together — we’re MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) geeks — and we used to eat Nutrition Fit Plus. Over the years I saw Nutrition Fit Plus get better and better and better and I was like, “There’s something going on with prêt-a-manger and I think it’s the future.” I became obsessed with it. At one point, Étienne, Fabrice (the VP), Jo (Jonathan Roy) and I were speaking and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
CS: Just like that, you were ready to jump ship from restaurants to WeCook?
GD: These are young, talented, focused people. The more focused you are as a team, especially when you’re running a tight ship, nothing is impossible. We have the chance to set the standard. As a very competitive human being, it’s like a dream come true.
CS: So, in some ways, you see the meal-kit industry as a new frontier of hospitality?
GD: I called it years ago — I was looking at prêt-à-manger — it’s so brand new, people are getting more excited about it. WeCook has a beautiful concept. The name says it all: WeCook. We cook for you so you don’t have to stress. It’s beautiful, it’s nutritious, it’s fun, you eat it and you move on with your life. That’s where the demand is. I’m not saying all the restaurants are going to close — absolutely not, restaurants are going to live forever — but the new era of rethinking how to eat at home fast, it’s such a beautiful untouched domain.
CS: Most people when they move on from Joe Beef, especially at your level, go on to open restaurants. Obviously, I’m thinking of Ari Schor at Beba, Marc Olivier Frappier at Mon Lapin and Zach Kolomeir and Carm Imola at Dreyfus in Toronto. With all your ambition, why not go down that path?
GD: I tell people all the time, I’m kind of the antithesis of a chef. I’m the guy who brings my own food, I’m the guy who wakes up at 5 a.m. to go train three hours before going to work every day. For me, it’s important to have a certain balance. I had the opportunity to run Joe Beef for almost 10 years, I’ve had incredible mentors like Derek Damann who is like a father to me, Marc Olivier Frappier who is one of the biggest geniuses of our era. When you turn 28–29, you start to grow up and you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m 30 now — I need to figure my shit out!” I was ready to graduate from Joe Beef and put that knowledge and that love for food into making a million meal kits a year. We’re going to get to cook for 75,000 people a week. We’re going to bring our food to people’s homes so they can eat in comfort — that’s probably the most romantic thing, in the big picture, that a chef can possibly dream of.
CS: You were most recently the executive chef of a restaurant known, to an extent, for overindulgence. As a fitness obsessive, how do you reconcile the two and how will that come though for the WeCook menu?
GD: In life, you need to look at the forest, not the trees. Joe Beef is one of those trees and the forest is delicious food. So from a restaurant perspective to a prêt-à-manger perspective, let’s just make delicious food. Delicious food doesn’t need to be heavy, you just need to have a balance. The idea, in the end, is making delicious food and making people happy. ■
For more on WeCook, please visit the company’s website.
For more on the Montreal restaurant scene, please visit the Food & Drink section.