Chris Capell, barista and owner of Le Couteau/The Knife
How long have you been a barista?
I started as a home barista six years ago, then went professional four years ago.
Who’s your favorite customer and why?
I love them all equally. :-) Seriously though, anyone that brings a great energy, a nice smile, a funny joke – or someone whose day I can see we’ve visibly improved. It’s all good. We have one customer that’s started doing something really cool, actually; when he pays, he pays for five extra filter coffees, and asks us to give them to the next five people that order a filter, so they get a surprise free coffee. He thinks of it as paying it forward. That’s the kind of thing that really makes my day, as well as those filter coffee drinkers’.
Which roaster do you prefer and what’s your favorite origin?
I’m obviously going to rep 49th Parallel, the roaster I work with – and I can add that lately they’ve been firing on all cylinders – and I’m not the only café owner to think so. I tend to like African coffees most, Kenya in particular, but I’m always open to trying anything. Lately, 49th blew me away with their Sulawesi Toarco Toraja, because it tasted so different than the typical Indonesian coffee. :-)
A coffee that change your life?
Does it sound conceited if I say it was a shot I pulled at home in my first year or so of making espresso ? I just remember still thinking about how it tasted half an hour later, and realizing coffee could have that big an impression on someone.
Soy milk : yes or no?
No. It’s really not good for you, from what I hear. But I understand some people want a non-dairy option (even though I believe for most/all people there’s nothing wrong with dairy – ooh, the controversial opinion!), so we offer it at our café. But I’m looking for a good almond milk to replace it.
At home, how do you make your coffee?
As a former home barista, I have nearly every brewing method known to man at home. But I mostly rotate between Moka pot (sometimes steaming milk on my home espresso machine, which is all it gets used for now), BREWT™ and French press.
Which music group defines The Knife?
I don’t think there’s really one group. We play a lot of stuff, and try to vary the mood according to the clientele and time of day. I let my employees bring in their own music, because that way I get exposed to new stuff.
But which song puts you in a inspired/creative mood when you work?
Again, too many to name. But lately I’ve been listening to the Father John Misty album a lot, and sometimes I just turn to my co-worker J-F and say “ Play it ” with a certain look on my face, and he puts on the Drive soundtrack. Oh, and when it’s really moving, Kendrick Lamar.
What’s your inspiration behind the superb interior design?
I think the 20’s and 30’s are really coming in in general right now (after the 50’s and 60’s modern look that’s been dominating interior design for the past while) – handlebar moustaches, oxford shoes, Boardwalk Empire, Art Deco, retro 20’s fonts in menus and posters, etc. (the Gatsby Movie is only going to push this further) – and that’s the time period I was shooting for a bit. Bily Kun’s awesome Deco interior was a big inspiration. I also wanted to separate us from the other cafés in the Plateau which skew more towards casual, funky or contemporary looks, so I went with something a little more refined and high-end (eg. the chandeliers, mouldings). I was kind of trying to bring a little European elegance, like maybe echoes of a British club or something. And as always, I was trying to solve problems, like the (relatively) low roof, so I went with white to try to open the space up, and gloss paint both for the retro look, but also because it’s easy to clean. :-)
Another standout about The Knife is that great painted brick wall on Bienville Street. It’s like a trademark. What’s the story behind it?
I needed to paint the outside wall anyway, because the previous business had painted it an ugly brown, and it was covered in graffiti. At the time I was looking at a lot of café facades from London, which I think has great style as a whole (fashion, architecture, music, etc.), and they often featured high-contrast, white-on-black exteriors, so I decided to do the same. The knife logo on the side wall came about because I liked the idea, but also because the way the city bylaws work, it was the biggest and cheapest way to do a sign for the business. :-) I see tourists taking pictures in front of it all the time, which is cool.
Where is your favorite hangout in Montreal?
Too many to name really, especially in the summer. Old fave, Bily Kun, new fave, Big in Japan Bar. (Okay, I’m not an alcoholic, but after tasting coffee all day, a few drinks does really help calm you down.) When nice weather synchs up with my days off, I head to Parc Lafontaine with a blanket or hammock.
See, I hate picking faves. Paper-filtered coffee, cappuccinos and other short milk drinks, our Si Ji Chun wulong, Coup de Grisou and the new Boreale IPA, wine (mainly white), rum, campari, Irish whiskey, soda and lime, orangina, etc.
Ok, ok. I understand, you are an open-minded person, thirsty for new adventures. ;) No favorites for you. Then you must have funny or memorable anecdotes to share?
Tons, but I’m not sure how many are publishable. Mostly it’s Jean-François who keeps me laughing. If you ever have a chance to drink with him, do not pass that up. Recently he came out with ‘Baristas are the new pool boys,’ which I really want to put on a t-shirt.
If you were an action hero, who would you be, and who would you fight and why?
Okay, I’m not trying to be a hipster (I’m too old to fit that description) or to consciously subvert your questions, but… I can think of lots of action heroes that I think are bad-ass or that I’d *like* to be, but to be honest, the only one I can think of that kind of ‘fits’ for me is Steve Zissou. As I get older and become more aware of my flaws (why does no one ever tell you that will happen?), the following quote really resonates for me:
[On reading the draft of the article being written about him by Cate Blanchett’s reporter character:] « Well, I was a little upset at first. I mean, obviously people are going to think I’m a showboat, and a little bit of a prick. But then I thought… that’s me. I said those things, I did those things. I can live with that. »
Like Steve, I’d probably just fight for my friends, or to try to do something that makes me happy, even (or especially) if it means going on some quixotic quest.
What are your favorite 80’s movies?
Saw Risky Business again a few months back, it holds up really well, definitely saw its influence on Drive. Also loved Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing (Cusack), Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller, Top Gun and Purple Rain – but the last two don’t hold up well at all.
So, if we did a movie on your story, who would play you?
Oh God, I have no idea, why would anyone make a movie of my life? I’m just going to say Ryan Gosling (because who wouldn’t want that guy to play them?) and be done with it.
Last question: is there something surprising we should know about you?
Uh, I’m single… is that surprising? (Probably not, really.)
Café French Toast ne reçoit aucune compensation monétaire ou caféinée en échange d’un article, ni n’est influencé à prendre position positivement ou négativement.