Ljubljana, 12. 10. 2021
It's very trendy to write about fine dining in remote locations. The recently closed Fäviken obviously being at the very top of all such lists. Koks in Faroe Islands, Fogo Island Inn off the coast of Newfoundland, South Africa’s Wolfgat, team Central’s Mil up in the Andes …
Well, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say Chez St.-Pierre can give them all a run for their money. This is, ironically, one of Canada’s most hyped and most underrated restaurants at the same time, the latter no doubt due to the fact that in order to eat there you might as well camp outside it afterwards. You fly to Montreal, then drive for five hours until you reach Le Bic, tiny hamlet of 1.000 people on the banks of St. Lawrence River.
There’s no accommodation there, so it’s not exactly an ideal situation for international foodies, eager to try some of the best cuisine the vast maple leaf country has to offer, but also eager to sort of not drive into a night afterwards.
No, Le Bic is not exactly at the end of the f***ing world, but it’s pretty damn close. And this is what Colombe St-Pierre calls home. St-Pierre, a self-taught chef, is, above all, a very proud Québécoise. And it was her deliberate choice when she left Montreal to settle in her native village, so far from the crowds, far from urban commodities, but at the same time right in the heart of the province.
Chez St-Pierre is a warm, welcoming place that very much falls in line with the New Nordic wave – and even the timing fits. Opened in 2003 the restaurant is focused on regional fare and aims to showcase and celebrate the vast culinary culture and history, as well as environmental beauty of the Lower St. Lawrence region.
“Nordic cooking introduces us to the virtues of what’s growing all around us: wild mushrooms (so abundant here), seaside botanicals, dune peppers, even the variety of leaves (dandelion, meadow salsify, sorrel and stonecrop) we use to compose interesting mesclun salads,” explains.
Colombe (42), named Quebec’s chef of the year in 2018, is not really looking to replicate typical Quebecois dishes, she’s actively searching the culinary identity of the province by exploring all the hidden unused or underused jewels it has to offer like sea urchins – a delicacy in many parts of the world and many fine dining tables, but in Quebec, nobody eats it. Chef St-Pierre is trying to change that and with that to change the mindset of the locals. To fully reflect the terroir and also to make Quebecois aware of their roots through food.
“For me, high-end cuisine is one that touches you,” ponders. “The commentary I hear most often from the Quebecois is: There’s not a lot of reference. This is all new to us. It’s a commentary I feel obliged to respond to: It’s us. It’s a shame we don’t know ourselves a bit better.”
With her farm-to-table concept she has a well-developed network of small producers and farmers and she uses several foragers to search out new and new plants, herbs, seaweed, berries, mushrooms and wild greens she can use and she is a firm believer of complete sustainability, environmental responsibility, traceability and seasonality of the produce.
“I never planned on becoming a big chef. I do it for us, for Quebecois. I love us,” St-Pierre said after her best chef win.
“I’ve been fighting every day for 15 years just to show how Quebec is wonderful, how we’ve got exceptional products. I made the choice to do it close to the product, I used to live a five-hour drive away in Montreal, and the day I decided to move to Bic, everybody was like ‘don’t do that, you’re going to fail’.”
She proved them wrong. And even though visiting Chez St-Pierre takes a lot of effort and time, if you really want an in-depth introduction into the gastronomic bountiful the province has to offer, this is the place to go. Almost to the end of the world.