‘Alchemy on Two Ovens’ - August 2016
Quebec City is among my favourite places on earth. The old city with its stone walls encloses one of the best preserved grouping of buildings found anywhere…certainly the best preserved in North America. It’s not only the 3-400 year old architecture, it’s the restaurants, the St. Lawrence River, the café au lait, the buskers, the Chateau Frontenac, the poutine, the well-dressed locals, the music…as you can see, I’m slightly enamoured with the place. Below are some of my latest photos capturing some of Quebec City’s magic.
Recently I traveled by train from my hometown of Guelph, Ontario avec my whole family – all ten of us. We experienced a Canadian travesty along the way: our railways. To me it’s unimaginable that successive federal governments could actively (inactively) watch our rail system deteriorate in front of their collective eyes. What should be a celebration of our country’s history, and the best way to travel in my humble opinion, has evolved into a bit of a shit show. Worn seats, minimal service and tracks grown so crooked that at times you are almost shaken from your chair. Nevertheless, thanks to familial comradery and four wonderful grand girls, it was a good trip! (BTW: We came back on a new train which was more comfortable and staffed with some delightful folks.)
We stayed at the Manoir Victoria which is well located and a nice quiet hotel. Its best attribute is being attached to Chez Boulay – Bistro Boréal. This restaurant has very inventive cuisine and is wholly inspired by the north. In fact, the genius behind the concept, Chef Jean-Luc Boulay, describes the food as ‘Nordic Cuisine.’ The menu includes many local foods and imaginative combinations. Game meats and seafood are well represented and the best part is the value! This place is a bargain: top service and haute cuisine at pretty much casual restaurant prices – that in itself is a kind of transmutation in reverse i.e. golden execution and quality reduced to value pricing. However, Chez Boulay, with its well equipped kitchen, cannot hold a candle to L’Affair est Ketchup’s ability to create a sense of wonder that cries out, “how the hell do they do it?”
This was my second visit to L’Affair est Ketchup. I was dying to see if they could duplicate the terrific meal I experienced on my first visit. Guess what? They surpassed it! Everything on the menu changes as local items become available. And, their admirable approach to meat is that they use most of the animal. The blackboard specials included the following items: goat belly, pigs head, bison shank, beef tongue, foie gras (duck liver), sweetbreads (pancreas) and flank of lamb. There are also many ‘normal’ cuts of meat and some water-based selections. Overall there are usually only ten appetizers and ten main course choices.
I started with the pigs head which had been boiled whole and stripped of its meat – it was very rich and flavourable…kind of like pork belly on steroids. My wife Sue had the Greek style salad which was packed with locally grown greens and tomatoes. For the main course I chose the bison ‘osso bucco’ served on orzo pasta with veg. It was succulent…I especially enjoyed the marrow. Sue had the Cornish hen cooked by the sous vide method (the meat is sealed in an airtight plastic bag and slow, very slow, cooked in a low temperature water bath). The meat was incredibly moist and tasty. Collectively the rest of our table tried almost everything on the blackboard and loved the modest prices. The overall consensus at the end of the meal was “let’s cancel tomorrow’s reservation and come back!”
Normally my above description of a restaurant experience would end there…not so with L’Affair est Ketchup. I asked one of the owners, Benoit (pictured with my son Court), whether I could take a photo of their kitchen. Court and I went up to the bar to find a tiny space tucked into the corner. We were amazed to see that the cooking equipment consisted of just two domestic stoves! It took a few seconds to take in the view before I wondered out loud, “how the hell can they produce what we all just ate from those two stoves?!” It's impossible. Chef Bob was just smiling while I secretly suspected he must have been a disciple of Hermes Trismegistus, and had somehow found recipes that were once thought to have been destroyed in 292 AD Alexandria. Whatever the truth, I now consider myself a believer in the possibilities of alchemy. Yum!
(There is no website for L’Affair est Ketchup)
www.HVQ.com (Hotel du Vieux – another fine hotel with superb location and restaurant attached).
For art lovers I recommend the following two galleries:
…and be sure to visit the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec before taking a stroll onto the Plains of Abraham (a great place for a picnic consisting of cheese, baguette and wine!)