A good deed never goes unpunished.
– Gore Vidal
When the owner of a chic Parisian bistro hired Jean Lafleur, convicted in the wake of the sponsorship inquiry, to work as a sous-chef, he never imagined that his face would be plastered on the front cover of the Journal de Montréal shortly thereafter.
Alain Creton, owner of Peel St. mainstay Chez Alexandre, has been friends with Jean Lafleur for roughly a decade. The former head of Lafleur Communications was convicted of defrauding the federal government last year and ordered to repay over $1.5 million. He’s been free since August, having served a third of his sentence, and is living with Creton and his family until he gets back on his feet.
People who had seen the article were saying ‘congratulations for standing by your friend,’” Creton told The Métropolitain. ìI knew one of these days a newspaper would write about it. We were ready to face the music but this was a concerto!”
Le Journal didn’t exactly have a soft touch with its handling of the story: The Sept. 16 issue had a grand five-page spread on “la nouvelle vie de Jean Lafleur,” featuring a cover-shot of the two friends laughing and drinking wine on Chez Alexandre’s terrasse. The reporting team also followed Lafleur from Creton’s home to the bistro and even to La Belle Province.
“It was five pages of nothing. It wasn’t news, Creton said. ìI like having a glass of wine with my friends and he’s happy to be free. He pled guilty and assumed the consequences. What else can he do?”
Creton said Lafleur is working for roughly $10 per hour peeling vegetables, assisting the sommelier and acting as the boss’ “gopher.” In short, he does any general work that won’t put too much strain on the 67-year-old because ìhe’s had two operations on his back and one on his heart. He’s an old man,Creton said.
Besides the occasional offhand comment, Creton said the trumped-up scandal hasn’t affected his business one way or another. A native of the south of France, he opened the bistro in 1977. With a degree from a French culinary school, Creton left home to spend a week in Montreal on vacation – and never left.
He started as a cook at a French restaurant, Le Boeuf et la Grenouille, before going out on his own. For the first nine years of Chez Alexandre’s existence, he didn’t take a vacation and worked every day from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m.
“What I have I’ve worked for,” Creton said, adding that retirement is not an option. “I’ll work until I die. If I’m retired, I’ll just end up cooking and hosting friends at home. It’s the same thing. When you own a restaurant, you have to love people.”
Creton was awarded France’s Médaille de mérite agricole for fostering authentic French cuisine at Chez Alexandre; every year, he brings in a guest chef from across the Atlantic to train staff and reinvigorate the menu. At the end of the day, Creton said, two-thirds of his clients are regulars and they will return – not for his sous-chef – but for the confit de canard à la périgourdine and the “best terrasse in town.”