Stories & Recipes from Montreal’s Marché Jean Talon
Published: Fall 2011
Newly published, you can find it everywhere and on Amazon.ca in French only (!). For an English version, ask a local bookstore or friend.
What a pleasure! For once, I can present my English readers a Québec cookbook in their language. I’m an avid fan of local cuisine and Québec products with my own Facebook page (in French) where I present the best of our terroir producers. Jean-Talon Market, the largest farmer’s market in North America, is one of my favourite Montreal destinations. Although I live in the suburbs now, and buy most of my produce from local farms, I still visit the Market year-round just for fun.
Market Chronicles is a beautiful object that is suited to the coffee table as much, if not more, as the kitchen counter. It would make a wonderful Christmas gift, even for the non-foodie in your entourage. The author is a Montreal journalist who has been a regular at the market her whole life. She devotes a great portion of her book to the farmers themselves, alongside boisterous beauty shots of the stands and shops. We are treated to portraits of the MJT’s main actors, from the local farmers who take over in the summer to the shop owners who surround the open-air market year-round, selling fruit, meat, fish and homemade ice cream.
Small confession: I happen to know many of the featured farmers and shop owners since, as a ghostwriter, I interviewed them 5 years ago for a book produced by TV show Des kiwis et des hommes which is shot inside the market. From Liette Lauzon and her tomatoes to Jacques Rémillard and his fine herbs, the Birri brothers and their vegetables, or Robert Lachapelle and his wonderful sherbets, I have basked in their enthusiasm and been charmed by their generosity. As for Anne Fortin, owner of the market’s bookstore Librairie gourmande, I like to think of this grande dame as a personal friend.
All of which is to say that Market Chronicles is meant to be enjoyed for the portraits and the storytelling on a par with the recipes.
In fact, let’s talk about the food. Offerings follow the seasons and star some of Québec’s iconic products, but above all they reflect the author’s taste. You will find corn fritters with chipotle crema, baked moroccan omelette and vietnamese spring rolls alongside a few of the dishes one might expect more: lobster roll, fiddlehead sauté or asparagus and goat cheese tarts. The recipe selection is one of the surprises of this book. It mirrors the market’s multiculturalism far more than Québec’s food traditions—which is not a flaw by any means.
Market Chronicles, like the title would suggest, has a journalistic feel. Semenak chooses to focus on the farmers who make up today’s market but who will inevitably make way for a younger generation, literally changing the face of the market in years to come. Who knows how long Nino will be there to greet you with a smile since he was already talking to me about retirement 5 years ago?
The book is printed on beautiful, thick matte paper that complements the pictures but is not meant to withstand the mess of your kitchen counters. So if you like to cook with the recipe at hand, this is not the cookbook for you.
What I liked most: The beautiful look and feel of the book, the quirky illustrations throughout, the hommage to the market that makes this book a keepsake.
What I liked least: The missing link between some farmers and the recipes, the pretty paper that is kitchen inappropriate, the farmers’ pix are less stunning than the rest of the book.
Should you buy it? Yes, it’s great for the coffee table, makes a nice Christmas gift, and beautifully documents the Montreal food scene.
I tested 3 recipes from the book for this review. Between you and me, had I chosen the recipes for myself and not my family of picky eaters, I might have turned to the more inventive dishes in the book. The verdict? Two recipes got a unanimous thumbs-up while a third was less successful. The Portuguese meatballs disappeared like magic and kiddo dived into the Thai soup multiple times. The pasta, though, failed to convince. Not a total failure, it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.
To try the recipes we liked for yourself, just click and cook!
• Pork and orange albondigas (page 214)
• Pumpkin thai soup (page 162)