It’s the Deluxe Edition printed in 1975. The only cookbook my mother owned, that and a Five Roses Flour spiral guide. It’s covered in plastic wrap like my old school books, most probably the victim of a back-to-school afternoon of textbook-covering frenzy that got out of hand. The title is an indicator of the times: “La Nouvelle Encyclopédie De La Cuisine” (The New Encyclopedia of Cuisine) by Mrs. Jehane Benoit. And it’s one of the cookbooks cherished by Danny St-Pierre, chef & owner of celebrated Auguste restaurant in Sherbrooke.
As part of my last book À la bonne franquette, I had asked 80 of Quebec’s top chefs not only for their favourite family recipe, but also that special local food near and dear to their heart. Most of them picked a cheese, fine liqueur or other artisan product. But for Danny St-Pierre, who had received the Encyclopedia as a gift, it had come to embody the best part of Québec’s food heritage. Not surprisingly, for his family recipe, he also chose that simple, everyday dish that his little girl just loves: Jehane Benoit’s Meatloaf.
Jehane Benoit is Québec’s answer to Julia Child, a pioneer who studied at the same school as the American grande dame, the famed Cordon-Bleu in Paris. Mrs. Benoit did not stop there however, going on to graduate as a food chemist from the Sorbonne…in 1925! Not only did she write 30 cookbooks, including one of Canada’s first treatise on microwave cooking, she also owned a popular restaurant. I often find myself wishing eager young cooks would rediscover Jehane Benoit the same way Americans have recently come to celebrate Julia Child.
I have cooked this meatloaf many times over since Danny sent it to me and it has become a family favourite in our home too. In fact, I am profoundly grateful for this recipe which somehow convinced my 4-year-old picky eater to try a bite of mashed potatoes to go along—the first time ever he agreed to eat his spuds otherwise than fried. Can you spell Alleluia?
So here is Jehane’s meatloaf, pulled out of oblivion by one of our best chefs dedicated to Québec’s food culture. To Danny St-Pierre, thank you for allowing me to offer it to readers of this blog, in its À la bonne franquette version. The ultimate comfort food, it has earned its place in our monthly meal rotation and I hope your family will enjoy it just as much. Bon appétit!
Note: For all intents and purposes, the only changes to the original recipe is the omission of sage or marjory, and chopping the onions instead of grating them. I recommend you let the meatloaf sit for a bit (or use a transparent pan) since it can get quite “juicy.”