Outaouais weighs in at Montréal en Lumière by By JULIAN ARMSTRONG, Gazette Food Writer
January 17, 2012
A couple of hours up the road from Montreal is a lush, food-producing region many Montrealers know little about. The Outaouais, home to one of Quebec’s biggest deer farms, rabbit producers, fine cheeses and foraging territory for many a wild mushroom, stands to become better known in this city when a band of its top chefs come to cook in Montreal restaurants next month.
The area, extending northwest from Ottawa into the Gatineau hills, has been chosen Quebec region of the year for the upcoming Montréal en Lumière festival, which runs Feb. 16-26. If you plan some gastronomic adventures during the annual mid-winter party, look beyond the major themes of Belgium and Seattle and consider sampling Outaouais fare.
From elaborate French cuisine from the region’s celebrated casino restaurant to relaxed bistro fare in Gatineau and lusty country cooking in Chelsea, these Quebec chefs offer the gamut of currently popular styles. If your dining budget is limited, both chefs and producers will be offering free samples of their specialties at a Jean Talon Market expo.
The fanciest Outaouais restaurant to demonstrate its cooking in Montreal will undoubtedly be Le Baccara, the CAA/AAA five-diamond establishment at Casino du Lac-Leamy in Gatineau. Its two top chefs – Quebecer Denis Girard and French-born Serge Rourre – will cook a five-course dinner at Europea Feb. 19 and 20 ($66.50, or $104 with wines) and a three-course lunch Feb. 20 ($30, plus wine). The restaurant will repeat the lunch menu daily until Feb. 24. 514-398-9229.
The region’s award-winning restaurant Les Fougères, run by chef Charles Part and wife, Jennifer Warren-Part, at Chelsea, will be one of the Outaouais visitors offering tastings at the Jean Talon Market expo, which runs both Feb. 18 and 19 from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Part is expected to offer some of his popular takeout dishes such as cassoulet and various tourtières, plus some of his new all-natural recipes. I’ve sampled his comfort food at competitions and at his restaurant and it’s exceptional.
Another Chelsea fixture, L’Orée du Bois, run by veteran French-born chef Guy Blain together with Jean-Claude Chartrand, will offer a seven-course dinner of their traditional French-Quebec fare at Cocagne Feb. 22 and 23 ($80, or $150 with wine). 514-286-0700.
Two other good bets: Portus Calle Feb. 20 and 21 when Romain Riva, young French-born chef at Moulin Wakefield in Wakefield will cook a six-course dinner ($60, or $85 with wines). 514-849-2070. DNA Feb. 21 and 22 when up-and-coming Quebec chef Christopher Mulder of Bistro St. Jacques in Gatineau will offer his satisfying locally-based cuisine ($70, or $135 with wines). 514-287-3362.
Plan on attending the free Jean Talon Market show, coordinated by veteran Montreal chef-teacher Jean-Paul Grappe and running from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 18 and 19. Sample such Outaouais specialties as smoked fish, farm-raised buffalo and boar, Montebello cheeses, flavoured almonds, chocolates, wines and beers. Then attend your choice of cooking demonstrations, which run at hour-and-a-half intervals all day, all weekend.
My choices from the list of demos: Feb. 18 – Chef Gaétan Tessier of La Table des Trois Vallés in Gatineau who will prepare smoked scallops from Chelsea Smokehouse in an endive salad at 11 a.m., and Blain of L’Orée du Bois in Chelsea, who will simmer boar cretons from La Sanglière de l’Outaouais in red wine at 2 p.m.; Feb. 19 – Riva’s loin of Petite National lamb encrusted with almonds from Les Amandes de Mirabel at 3.30 p.m.
For the complete list of demos, plus the fine points of all the meals and mini-profiles of the visiting chefs, consult the festival program, available at all SAQ outlets or online at montrealenlumiere.com