Tag Archives: Au Pied du Cochon

Joe Beef: A Philosophy of Quebec Cuisine

20140217-134628.jpg

Montreal remains the place where I feel most at home. It is a city with simple aspirations; it is a city focused on quality, local food prepared in an avante garde culinary style. People in Quebec appreciate wine, soft lighting, conversation at dinner, laughter and sensuality. It is a city that has changed my life purpose three times and influenced how I live with more with every visit. The past two nights were no exception, yet exceptional nonetheless.

20140217-141735.jpg

My usual destination in Montreal is Martin Picard’s Au Pied Du Cochon on Duluth Street, but for this visit we chose to try our luck with Joe Beef, the brainchild of David MacMillan and Frederic Morin. A favourite with superstar chefs like David Chang and Anthony Bourdain, Joe Beef has the street cred to make it worth a three month ahead reservation.

What was it like? Nothing like we expected, but beautiful in its darkness and lush food. First, I hope you read French. The ever-changing chalkboard menu is wholly francophonic, and difficult to see in the evening lights. Secondly, one needs a sense of adventure, a trust in your waiter, and a willingness to try new flavours. Our dinner consisted of 8 maritime oysters in the raw, two sea urchin, a pork and chicken tender terrine served next to a slab of perfectly chilled foie gras, a New Brunswick lake trout in a salty mortadella sauce, a large filet of cheval, and a side of Parmesan frites. I was also shamed into a whimsical peppermint soft serve ice cream on molten chocolate cake. Two bottles of Bourgogne wine and two of the better cafe Americano I have had in a long time. Final bill: $350.

20140217-143704.jpg

A visit to Joe Beef is not just about the food. A visit to this minor Mecca is about coming to understand a food philosophy and flavour palette that one cannot find in Toronto, New York or Chicago. The fact that horse meat was on the menu and lauded by the waiter as the best food in the house, would never be supported in a town where people are disconnected from their food and its sources. How many places serve chicken, beef and fish from parts unknown? Joe Beef knows the horse is from Pennsylvania, and the arguments for its consumption in recent Globe and Mail articles are compelling. The flavour falls between beef for texture and pork for flavour complexity. I will not crave cheval in my dreams, but it was a transformational dish in terms of how I interpret flavours for my own cooking style.

In relation to that, the reason for a food photographer and home cook to visit a restaurant like Joe Beef is to experience how food can be prepared honestly and simply. The terrine chaude was my favourite dish. I had never thought to warm a terrine, and this one was perfect in its composition. In contrast to the heavenly foie gras in a cool, classic sauce, the terrine made me want to prepare my own version this week; to build a family recipe for posterity and years of expectant enjoyment.

20140217-145500.jpg

We drank Burgundy region wines, as they were suggested in the Joe Beef restaurant book, and I could certainly see how their simple, clean flavours work with the rich, salty, complex flavours in the food. In the end, Joe Beef is a one time visit for me. I get it, I loved it, and it was worth the money; I simply prefer the gluttony and Gargantuan nature of Au Pied du Cochon more. Life is short; eat what you dream of in the darkest of Winter nights.

20140217-150407.jpg

From a different perspective, and after a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli, we decided to stay at The Fairmont’s Les Voyageurs Bar for dinner on the second night. Partly due to getting a slight chill while trekking up Mont Royal, and partly due to a $100 credit from hitting Platinum status on 2013’s trips out West and Ottawa, we stayed inside this classic hotel from the train era. After a dozen oysters from the PEI bay where I bought property next to this year we went with a cheese plate of Quebec cheeses accompanied by an absolutely perfect bottle of Quebec white wine. The price was a reasonable $150, and the experience was matched with our expectations: good hotel food from the locality.

20140217-151606.jpg

Our final moments this morning were spent lingering over coffee, cheap Bordeaux and a wickedly rich collection of French pastry, baguettes filled with smoked salmon and a feuillete containing a bechamel and ham centre. Perhaps that is what Montreal offers: multiple, magnificent moments unlike anywhere else. These were moments welcome and stolen from a cold winter season.

Dispatches From the IPhone: Ma Belle, Ma Vie Dans Montreal

20130222-090922.jpg
Montreal is where I travel to when I want to live deeply. The Old Port is filled with art, romance and boutique hotels; St. Laurent and St.Denis streets hold unique shops and places to eat. Atwater Market is where patisserie is Parisian and butchers ply their trade. The only way to fail in Montreal is to lack the ability to walk and enjoy what the city brings to your feet.

20130222-095407.jpg
The one place I seek refuge with every visit is Au Pied du Cochon. The child of madman Martin Picard, it is the Mecca for Québécois food for the soul. From foie gras cromesquis (molten foie in bread cubes) to large chunks of perfectly done flesh, Pied is one of my favourite restaurants in the world. Sadly, it has also become a place where travelling conservatives pretending to be foodies are being drawn to. As I looked across the bar top, the uber thin woman experiencing the kitchen through her eyes in lieu of her mouth. The sad couple sat facing the bar instead of each other. They stared at the food on the plate instead of tasting it. Doggy bags full of unctuous Duck in a Can and foie gras poutine went home with them; they will pretend to eat it, but it will be thrown away when their microwave butchers it. Such things make me feel bad for the rest of the world; such things remind me of how fortunate I have become in 2013.

20130222-100501.jpg
What did I order? After the nuggets of molten liver, I ventured into the daily specials: charcuterie made at the cabane aux sucre, boudin (blood sausage) on top of thick potato purée, suckling pig shank with a creamy stuffed onion and a few choice bottles of Bourgogne red wine. The food was rich, the wine was perfect, conversation was joyous and I felt alive in the way one can only feel in Montreal on a Friday.

20130222-100942.jpg
Strangely enough, I have been pretty lucky to get reservations at Pied. The other two major restaurants, Joe Beef and Garde a Manger, were booked solid until April. Not a problem in a city filled with such stellar options as Schwartz’s, Frite Alors, Ruby Rouge for dim sum, and a 3 Brasseurs for microbrews in season.

20130222-101340.jpg
In a city where you can go to Atwater Market on Saturday morning and buy a picnic of calvados terrine with pear, a perfect pear tart, French bread, chanterelles and blue foot mushrooms and a wide collection of unique small biere forte, how could you not feel tears in your eyes? Yet, most tourists flock to fast food joints on Ste. Catherine. Sad, but common.

20130222-101740.jpg
Life is good. Perhaps this was the first travel wherein I found solace and rest. Not once did I divert my focus from the beauty around me. I never even pulled out my Hasselblad camera to snap a few photographs. Instead, I drank life to the lees and breathed in the cold, winter air to fill my lungs deeply. Such is the difference between survival and comfort.

20130222-102220.jpg

Shrimp and Shanks: The Art of Cooking and Eating for One

Since V. has been on the road to Hamilton, Thunder Bay and now Rome, I am usually faced with the problem of how do I feed myself without creating pounds of leftovers or turning to heavily processed, quick foods. When I cook for friends, or enemies, the question that I am always asked is whether I “eat like this every night.” Ahhh, yes. Ahhh, no. Frankly, my answer depends on the audience, because the truth is that I usually do eat like this, but that most people think I am crazy for attempting to do so. The reality is that most people microwave their dinner or pour it from a can after a long day’s work. Few people have the luxury of having a spouse slaving over a hot stove anymore [which is a shame because that is a job I would love to have], and pressing a few buttons is the extent of the average Joe’s imagination.

For better or worse, I hate microwaved food, and I love the act of cooking. The problem is that single-servings are hard to produce from grocery store counters that cater to a minimum of two servings per package. Leftovers are a problem, too, because I do not want to eat spaghetti for four nights straight nor do I want to waste good, expensive food when so few people have access to it. So what do I do?

My strategy of late has been to buy a few prime, frozen options that are versatile enough to be pulled out and matched with most cultural flavourings. This week was shrimp, lamb shanks, and one treat night was two different types of pork rib chops from Oliffe. Gnocchi was in my fridge needing to be used up, and I always have a wide variety of high quality pasta on hand for such occasions, so I worked from there. The first dinner was comprised of 5 jumbo shrimp sauteed in butter and Paul Prudhomme Cajun Seasonings, and added to that was potato gnocchi cooked with a truffle hunter sauce and celery, shallot and carrot reduction. Total time was 22 minutes, and there were no leftovers or waste.

Next night was a complex soup that used up the rapini, peppers, corn and beans I had in my fridge from the previous week. I added a few pieces of sheet pasta and then the shrimp came back for another appearance. I am allergic to shrimp sometimes – it depends on where they are from and the time of year they were caught – and these ones from Sobeys just happened to be good for me. The soup was eaten once and the second portion is frozen without any shrimp for freshness. While not a clean start from leftovers, this soup is easily re-flavoured for up to two weeks, and after that the leftover should probably be taken out of the freezer and tossed.

Being sick of shrimp, I went into the freezer yet again and found a package of three lamb shanks. A lamb shank is wonderful or terrible depending on the lamb and whether you can remove the silver skin yourself [silver skin is a membrane on the shank that most people ignore but whose removal is key to ensuring your lamb is not tight, tough and yucky]. After work I took the shanks out, let them defrost in cold water and went to work on something else that needed my attention. In an hour they were soft enough to start in a Staub Coq au Vin pot, so with a sear on all sides and a liberal dousing of vodka, tomato sauce and garlic I began a braise that would last for 2 hours. No, I did not eat until late that night, but I had the pleasure of the preparation, and the braising required no attention from me, so I was able to work on photography until I was ready to eat. The gnocchi were boiled and then tossed in the tomato reduction, and the shank was broiled to darkness for four minutes. The leftovers were used for other meat sauces later in the week.

Potato and egg salad is a favourite from my childhood, but I never cook it because it is not exactly light. However, I accidentally cracked two eggs at breakfast so I hard-boiled them to reduce waste. I had baby potatoes and salad greens in the fridge from before Thunder Bay, so I resolved to mix them all onto a plate with the final few shrimp in the frozen bag. Nice, light tasting, and filling. The moral of this story should be that beautiful food is possible on an almost nightly basis once you learn to see food as more than a recipe. When I lived in Montreal I had no money and had to learn how to take what was on the reduced to clear rack and turn it into an edible dinner. Now that I am no longer a starving student, I still enjoy that challenge, but this time it is to take whatever is best and freshest in market and turn that into a dish that is more than edible without a recipe beyond the standard culinary techniques that every person should learn to ensure they never go hungry…who knows when the zombie apocalypse will happen and you will be forced to live off the land.

My last thoughts of the morning come from how much I loved the entire 4×5 film process. Upon reflection though, it is a process that cannot really transfer to my commercial work, which is sad. Time, money and quality standards in commercial photography demand digital techniques. Still, I enjoyed the art of photography when I dragged the Linhof around the Thunder Bay countryside, and I felt a bit of peace that is unique to the process. At least I have film to last me until 2013…then we will have to see if there are any manufacturers left.

I spent last night watching Durs a Cuire, the french film featuring Norman Laprise from Toque and Martin Picard from Au Pied du Cochon. It was a revelation in food to watch these masters travel to Spain, Portugal, Toronto and Lyons in search of the real food. To hear Picard lament about how industrial and idiotic Canadian health inspectors are in their belief that they know what is best for us was disheartening, because it is so true. Eggs, for instance, in Paris were astonishingly good, but they were fresh and not industrialized in the way North Americans ruin many of our foods. I stuck through the killing of a large hog, too, onscreen, because such killing is also what cooking is about. Perhaps what I noticed was not the horror of killing for food, but rather the respect that the Portuguese family gave to the pig as they handled everything from the blood to the corpse. It was not an industrial killing, but a holistic one after living with that pig for seven years. I adore both of these chefs and cannot wait until I eat at their restaurants again.