Fringe Food

Your Local Farmers’ Market Remixed

  • Photos: Dominic Paquin (SAT)

Picture this: it’s a Saturday morning and you arrive at the farmers’ market, basket in hand, to pick out some fresh local produce from a smattering of friendly vendors.

You grab a handful of plump field tomatoes, some dark greens, a cut of beef, and a handful or two of button mushrooms. You edge your way toward your bike, ready to make another fresh yet (admittedly) kind of boring dinner for you and your friends.

But wait—what’s that collection of hot plates and pans over behind the tomato seller? And what’s with the bingo cards? And how about that string of sex shops on all sides and the club-goers stumbling home?

You perk your ears up and realize you’re in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, clutching your tender organic produce in the loom of the Montreal Pool Room and Cleopatra’s. How did you get here? Have you been here all night? What was a farmers’ market doing here?

Okay, let’s cut the crap, and substitute ‘you’ for ‘me.’ This happened to me—at least, most of it—and after shaking off my confusion (read: hangover), I realized that I’d stumbled upon the Société des Arts Technologiques’s Marché FoodLab, a unique culinary experiment happening at Parc de la Paix. For those unfamiliar with parks other than Mont-Royal or Lafontaine, you may be surprised to know that the Parc de la Paix is one of those rare piazzas in our gridlocked city, an open (and municipally protected) city block on St. Laurent St. just north of Réné Levesque Blvd., just outside the sanctified perimeter of the Quartier des Spectacles.

Not only is it neighbour to seminal cultural space SAT, but the space also served as one of Montreal’s first farmers’ markets, a thriving meeting ground of the rural and urban at the turn of the 19th century.

Shopping around for local produce in your neighbourhood, you might have come to the awareness that small farmer’s markets are hard to come by in this city. The vast region between the Jean Talon and Atwater markets suffers from a drought of local produce—but small, notable exceptions are beginning to pop up. Many of them, like Marché FoodLab, are making use of their small size to construct innovative food experiences that go beyond the traditional farmer’s market.

The SAT in particular is notorious for crossing disciplinary boundaries—my first experience there, for example, was a raucous performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique by the Orchestre de la Francophonie, accompanied by drinks, followed by a DJ interpretation of the work and a dance party. Similarly, at FoodLab, you can take your humble groceries and remix them with the help of some of the city’s most creative cooks. Which brings us back to bingo.

On Sept. 2 and 3, market-goers received a bingo number with each item purchased from a vendor. Groups of market-goers shared collective bingo cards, trying to land a full line. You probably guessed it: the first team to reach BINGO gets a dish cooked by a chef on premise—using only their five items and a randomly drawn protein (eggs, tofu, meat, or beans).

Sound tasty? It does to me. The game is the creation of Nicolas Fonseca, a cook and mediamaker who thrives in multisensory creative experiments. But the remarkable thing about FoodLab is that it is much more than a one-off experiment: it’s a real, live, operational farmers’ market—a stunning reuse of this old meeting ground since grown derelict.

This grassroots market will still be around for you, open Thursday to Saturday until Oct. 1. Not only can you join the cult following of Hilary McGown and Marc Leclerc’s gourmet taco truck present on site, but also taste some of the absolute finest of our local terroirs, including natural Quebec wine, organic produce, and artisanal charcuterie, preserves, and cheese.

FoodLab runs until Oct. 1. For more information, visit

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