Depending on the number of customers, the kitchen at Tri Express on Laurier Avenue East in Montreal is often bustling with three to four chefs at a time. Nestled in an old brewery, the restaurant, owned by Vietnamese chef Tri Du, has been welcoming Outremont residents, artists and media since 2006. Featuring generous portions, the dishes served—sushi, fish, salads—reflect the chef’s creativity and colourful personality. A unique character in Montreal’s Asian food scene, Tri came to Canada in 1980 at the age of 22. Originally from Vietnam’s Quy Nho’n Region, he fled the military draft and ended up in a refugee centre at the Longue-Pointe military base in Montreal. From there, he was placed with the host family of Blanche and Paul Tremblay in Normandin, Lac St-Jean. The transition to this new life and schooling in an entirely French-speaking environment was difficult and lasted a year and a half. With just a travel bag, a bus ticket and a few dollars, he arrived in Montreal and spent his first few nights sleeping on a park bench before a charitable soul took him in. Tri’s culinary journey began as a kitchen helper. He then graduated to the role of chef and worked in prestigious Japanese restaurants around Montreal. A father of two boys, he decided to open his own restaurant, hoping it would provide a better work-life balance. Invited to be a guest chef in countries around the world, the success of his own restaurant was quickly cemented. Married to Danielle Boisclair, a Quebec-born woman from Victoriaville, this energetic man now coaches and trains many other chefs in Montreal. Today, daily operations at Tri Express are run by chefs from Malaysia, Laos, Japan and Quebec. Dressed in red pants and a hipster hat, adorned with necklaces, trendy glasses and tattoos, Tri, hyperactive yet focused, says he is very close to his staff and concerned with their quality of life.
Considered a leader in Montreal’s food community, Tri learned from Japanese chefs, drawing inspiration from a variety of Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. At Tri Express he prepares scrumptious dishes in a bistro setting decorated with mementos from his many travels. And it comes as no surprise that his son Thierry-Tri Du-Boisclair follows in his father’s culinary footsteps with his own restaurant on St-Vallier Street. Tri, whose past is littered with dark moments, has risen above the years of anguish and the horrors of war to create a happy family. He admires the sincerity and warmth of the Quebec people, whom he describes as humble, open and friendly. They are good people, he emphasizes. In addition to his passion for work, Tri enjoys a number of hobbies. He plays tennis and badminton, enjoys do-it-yourself projects, and after a long day, loves relaxing to Vietnamese music. When speaking with those who know him, we see how the values of generosity, attentiveness, human welfare and love have shaped this exceptional person.
If you should run into Tri at his restaurant, make sure to ask how he prepares the geoduck, the longest-living mollusk in the world that is harvested in the waters along Canada’s Pacific Coast.