It was the kind of challenge I relish: convince 10 of Quebec’s top chefs to play the healthy card by creating gourmet recipes for the Montreal Heart Institute and the nutritionists at its EPIC Centre. A unique cookbook that could also serve to raise funds for the Institute’s well-respected and much-needed Foundation.
The initial call came in the spring of 2011: “You have free reign. We’re sending you a list of chefs that the Institute likes, but you choose who you want to work with.”
Right away, I made a mental list of chefs I knew and liked, plus a few others I wanted to get to know. One name appeared on both my list and the Institute’s: Danny St Pierre of Sherbrooke’s Auguste Restaurant. He was my first call.
The second one went out to Michael Makhan of Montreal’s Aux Vivres Restaurant, out of a personal desire to feature vegan cuisine. Other names were added as I went, new upcoming chefs and top toques that the team fancied:
• Giovanni Apollo of Apollo Restaurant;
• Anne and Emmanuel Desjardins of L’Eau à la bouche;
• Jérôme Ferrer of Europea;
• Mélanie Gagnon of Auberge Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley;
• Patrick Gérôme of Le Baluchon;
• Sébastien Harrisson Cloutier of Bistro Bienville;
• Jean-Baptiste Marchand of La Fabrique;
• and Ian Perreault, the famous-chef-turned-caterer.
I’ve been know to say on the record how much I like chefs, their larger-than-life generosity, their insatiable appetite for life, their incessant quest for more and more pleasure. Even when I don’t know a chef at the beginning of a joint project, a meeting of the minds takes place pretty quickly. Which is a good thing, because kindred spirits and team work were much needed in the course of creating this healthy cookbook. Analyzed by the Institute’s nutritionists, no duck recipe survived. A few desserts bit the dust. Mussels, algae and kale barely made it due to their high sodium levels…
Mélanie Gagnon had to test her egg and carrot verrines one night, to replace her duck confit financiers at the last minute (a recipe that remains in my archives, one of the marginal benefits of my job). Jean-Baptiste Marchand’s Egg and Bagel Brunch was sent back to bed. And I am holding on to Patrick Gérôme’s regretted Duck Confit Parmentier, to be cooked next fall when the Faubert family yearns for the return of comfort food.
In the end, 80 recipes succeeded in convincing both our tastebuds and the Epic Centre’s nutritional software, a taskmaster as unbending as an elliptical machine, lol. As a lapsed vegetarian, I was seduced by all the recipes provided by Aux Vivres; by the melon, ginger and honey wine soup from L’Eau à la bouche; by the soy bean, strawberry and thai basil salad from La Fabrique; and by Auguste’s poached chicken on a bed of tomatoes, capers and raisins. And by the following, the very first recipe from the book, a delicious salad created by Giovanni Apollo that is tailor-made for summer and kind on the arteries. Trust me, I’ve got a nutritionist’s word on that.
Fennel and clementine salad with lime
• 2 fennel bulbs
• 5 clementines
• 1 cucumber, seeded and diced
• 1 minced green onion
• juice of one lime
• 30 ml ( 2 tbsp) olive oil
• 7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) sesame oil
• pinch of salt and black pepper
1. Finely mince fennel using a mandoline and chill in a bowl of icy water. Peel 2 clementines, divide into sections and set aside.
2. Juice remaining clementines and whisk together with dressing ingredients.
3. Drain fennel, transfer to a salad bowl and combine with other vegetables as well as reserved clementines. Sprinkle with dressing, mix carefully and serve.
Before the gargantuan Cabane PDC by Montréal chef Martin Picard, there was Anne Fortin’s Cooking with Québec maple syrup. A friend of mine, Anne is the grande dame of Jean-Talon Market where she owns the food bookstore Librairie gourmande, AKA Montreal chef-and-foodie central.
While I have every intention of cooking from the Pied de cochon sugar shack book (things like Breakfast PDC, veal curry and chicken with gnocchi come to mind), let’s face it, for a busy mom, these are time-intensive recipes. And with two picky eaters at home, I’m always a little scared to spend 24 hours in the kitchen only to be greeted at the dinner table by dubious looks, if not all-out dramatic groans.
You’re looking to indulge your sweet tooth this spring? You’re going to Paris and want to bring a typically Québecois gift? You’re invited for Easter and are scrambling for hostess gift ideas? Here’s a small, simple cookbook that only wants you to discover the joy of cooking with maple syrup. (BTW, it won a prize at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards as the best single subject French cookbook for Canada, so this is no lightweight.)
You will find a traditional section with sugar shack specialties of course. But the real added value here are the modern recipes, many provided by Québec’s leading toques from Jérôme Ferrer to Marie-Fleur Saint-Pierre, and Patrice Demers to Michelle Marek.
Vive la différence? The book has its own, brand-new WordPress page (!) where you can also order a gift assortment including 3 samples of maple syrup and sugar. Isn’t that sweet.