A taste for good food: A renewed tradition
Quebec gastronomy, with its multiple influences and local products, now has an international reputation. It can be traced back to New France in the 17th century, when eating well was part of the French Canadian culture given the abundance and variety of food resources. Today, the many popular books, television shows and blogs about affordable, flavourful and diverse recipes confirm that a taste for good food is still a passion in Quebec. This trend has led to the creation of a number of quality agri-food businesses: artisanal bakeries, microbreweries, cheese and chocolate makers, vineyards, cideries and other makers of culinary delights, often linked together in gourmet tours. Although fast food chains are as common in Quebec as elsewhere, many high-quality and prestigious restaurants throughout the province cater to foodies. The French culinary heritage is alive and well in Quebec.
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While Quebecers have always welcomed foreign culinary influences—mainly from the British (roast beef), Italians (spaghetti) and Americans (hotdogs and hamburgers)—an increased openness to the world in the 1960s accentuated the trend. As more chefs, artisans and small producers discovered a wider variety of high-quality products and refined culinary skills, they also unleashed the full potential of local products. From this grew a greater desire to buy local, the production of more quality foods and increased promotion of Quebec’s flagship products such as milk and maple products alongside a continued exploration of exotic foods and preparations that are also extremely popular.
The Terroir et Saveurs du Québec website of the Association de l’Agrotourisme et du Tourisme Gourmand du Québec lists artisans, producers and agri-food events in the various regions of Quebec. The Route des saveurs de Charlevoix, for example, invites visitors to discover famous fine cheeses, stone-ground flours and restaurants that use select regional products. The Circuit agrotouristique des Cantons-de-l’Est includes a vegetable farm, an artisanal bakery, a honey producer and a boar farm. The Gaspésie gourmande circuit includes several places to find fish and seafood, introduces a forager for wild mushrooms and other edible wild plants, and suggests a few microbrewery stops. There is also a Quebec wine route, cider route, maple route and many other agri -food circuits, as well as numerous special events such as Les Fêtes gourmandes de Neuville, featuring Neuville’s famous sweet corn, which now holds a certificate of authenticity awarded by the Conseil des appellations réservées et des termes valorisants du Québec. This event showcases the work of 15 or so chefs, each proposing an original way to prepare corn, a long-enjoyed traditional farm product.
Quebec’s new gastronomy is still a work in progress. It is characterized by its creativity, the diversity of its influences and the fact that it embraces certain international trends that resonate with the sensibilities of Quebec consumers and artisans. Conviviality and accessibility, for example, are consistent with the Quebec tradition of simple and flavourful food enjoyed with others. The use of local products and environmentally and socially responsible practices that avoid waste and make use of as much of the product as possible are becoming increasingly important. The trend is also toward respect for the product, an effort to showcase its intrinsic flavour and quality rather than transform or process it using complex techniques.
In a few large restaurants in Montreal, Quebec City and some regions of the province, famous chefs are pushing the boundaries of creativity. Toqué! in Montreal and Saint-Amour in Quebec City, for example, two leaders in the upscale restaurant business, are famous for serving food comparable to that found in the best restaurants around the world, at a lower price. A few great Quebec chefs, like Martin Picard, are reinventing traditional classics. Others are exploring new avenues by incorporating Aboriginal influences and lesser-known wild products. In barely three decades, the increasing professionalization of the restaurant sector, the engagement of highly talented chefs and the use of contemporary products and techniques in this growing sector have led to the creation of a Quebec gastronomy comparable to the best international culinary practices with its own unique personality.
A taste for good food all the time
There is a certain contradiction between the rapid pace of everyday life, which leaves little time for cooking, or even eating, and the abundant media coverage of the culinary arts. Could eating with your eyes, watching talented chefs on television making succulent meals while you scarf down a frozen dinner really replace family cuisine? In any case, there is no doubt that the most well-known Quebec chefs tend to focus on simple, quick and flavourful meals. In this respect, the current popularity of the culinary arts is in line with the centuries-old Quebec tradition based on the enjoyment of simple but excellent meals: vegetable and pea soup, cretons, stews, shepherd’s pie, fruit and sugar pies, to name but a few. Housewives were proud of their cooking skills. You know that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! The Cercles des fermières held contests. Mothers handed down their best secret recipes to their daughters.
Today, men are also interested in cooking. Organic products are breaking into the market. Local agriculture is making inroads among consumers. Quebecers are using less salt and sugar, avoiding gluten and cholesterol-rich foods, and countering the global obesity epidemic, which, incidentally, is less prevalent than in other Canadian provinces, since Quebecers tend to eat healthier. Although junk food has its own aficionados, Quebec is truly a land of enjoyment and hope for people who want to eat a flavourful, healthy and responsible diet.