Nothing is more certain than a brutal winter in Quebec. But the cold — even at its extreme — does not stop Quebec City’s most celebrated chefs from filling their menus with the freshest ingredients possible. These are chefs who forage for vegetables, hunt for precious fungi and swoon over the best of artisanal meats and cheeses imaginable. They know their terroir and appreciate the uniqueness of their province’s rich culinary heritage and independent purveyors.
Of course, going seasonal in a season hardly known for its bounty certainly has its challenges. And that’s where foresight — and strong doses of imagination and ingenuity — makes all the difference.
Take Frédéric Laplante, whose Quebec City eatery Légende par la Tanière has emerged at the forefront of Quebec’s hyper-local/hyper- seasonal vanguard. Set in the Old City, close to the antiques district, Légende is known for its use of sous-vide (precision-driven vacuum- packed cooking), which turbocharges flavour, enhancing the culinary experience.
In the summer, sous vide helps propel ultra- fresh food to even greater flavour heights. But, it’s in winter, Laplante notes, that this cooking method can really come in handy. “During cold months, we switch to a menu that’s more hearty and comfort-food styled — the food of our ancestors.” he says. For Laplante, this means mushrooms, squashes and root vegetables like carrots, beets and celery root — all sourced from tiny farms and hothouses near Quebec City or Montreal and specializing in winter produce.
Laplante pairs these vegetables with regional fish, beef or deer, which he prepares via sous-vide to extract every bit of taste. He then accents the proteins with herbs and berries harvested in warmer months and then preserved for winter. “Items come in fresh and beautiful, and then the marinade brings out other flavours,” he says. Laplante has also recently been exploring unusual protein sources, like crickets, which he grinds into a powder as a filling for ravioli. “[Here], we remain true to the region, so there is no chocolate or lemon, but lots of maple syrup.”
Close by is chef Mathieu Brisson’s bistro-style restaurant, Le Clocher Penché, considered one of the most romantic in town, particularly for brunch. Like Laplante, Brisson maintains an almost cult-like adherence to locally sourced ingredients, especially in winter. “We even have one purveyor who grows beets, squash and potatoes in specially designed dark rooms right in his home.”
Brisson concedes that ultra-green dishes, like simple salads, can be tough to prepare in the cold season (“I may even import some organic varieties from the U.S.,” he admits). But the biggest change at Le Clocher Penché in winter is the sheer number of dishes on offer. “In the summer we might change the menu every other week and alter dishes each day, depending on what’s available,” he says. “But in winter we don’t switch things up as much.”
This means more reliance on hearty staples such as fruit jams and fragrant garlic preserves, as well as plenty of tasty cheeses, which have become a distinctly Québécois staple, too. “It’s all kept in a cool room,” Brisson explains, “along with lots of veggies that we harvest in the summer.”
And then there’s the cheekily named L’affaire est Ketchup, a tiny eight-table eatery where young, hip chefs François Jobin and Olivier Lescelleur Saint-Cyr use an electric stove to cook their modern take on traditional dishes. The restaurant — which was featured on celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food show on CNN, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown — takes its name from the French idiom for “everything is cool,” and Jobin and Lescelleur Saint-Cyr certainly live by this maxim. Dishes are presented on a simple black chalkboard, and come wintertime, the chefs rely heavily on local meats such as boar, foie gras and even guinea fowl.
Dishes, like mega-indulgent bone marrow, are stuffed with all-season goodies that include carrots and onions, while the hearty, cool-weather stews — think along the lines of classic québécois blanquette (here made with pork rather than veal) — are spiked with quail egg, onion and mushrooms. Many of the menu offerings are family favourites, perfect for sustaining life through the seemingly endless Quebec winters.
WHERE THE CHEFS GET THE GOODS
Laplante at Légende par la Tanière likes Laiterie Charlevoix, a traditional dairy in Baie-Saint-Paul, where folks can visit sample and purchase Québécois cheeses all season long. laiteriecharlevoix.com
L’Affaire est Ketchup’s chefs are such avid fans of Élevage des peigeonnaux Turlo that they even named one of their dishes after this meat purveyor in Saint-Gervais – porc de la femme turlo. pigeonneauxturlo.com
Fromagerie des Grondines, in Deschambault-Grondines, is one of the vendors chef Brisson at Le Clocher Penché swears by, for cheeses and also the shop’s delicate rhubarb juice. fromageriedesgrondines.com
By Chris Taylor – *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Winter 2017
Photos: Le Clocher Penché