Two months after the world lost the giant of French cuisine — Chef Paul Bocuse — I was treated to a meal he would have been proud of.
Hosted by Madame Kareen Rispal, Ambassador of France in Canada, at the French embassy, the evening was part of a celebration called “Goût de France,” a great global dinner party held in 3,000 restaurants and 150 embassies around the world. Its purpose is to showcase the many splendours of French regional gastronomy and this year (the 4th annual) to honour Bocuse by focusing on the product of his home in Nouvelle Aquitaine. So, bien sur, we were spoiled with good Bordeaux wines – the area is most famous for those – but also, on plates, regional delicacies of Périgord truffles, foie gras, and something I’d never encountered before… caviar d’escargots. These are the very precious eggs of snails — lacey white, juicy and salty and earthy tasting — they arrived smoked, and served with a first course of Hamachi tuna tartare.
In charge of the Goût de France menu and its execution were Katie Brown Ardington, Chef to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Laurent Provence, Chef of the French Residence, together with Ardington’s pastry chef Tanya Lennstrom (responsible for the magnificent Gateau Opéra with maple cream), and students from Ecole Hoteliere de l’Outaouais.
“Laurent and I had fun incorporating classic French flavours and products — the caviar, truffles, Brie, foie gras, Cognac,” Ardington told me “…but then sourcing ingredients from our own neighbours — maple syrup, spruce tips, juniper berries, and produce from Gatineau.”
It sounds good, doesn’t it? It was. And how.
No longer cooking for the public, as she did for many years with the Beckta group of restaurants, encountering the cuisine of Katie Brown Ardington is now a rare treat. In her role as Chef to the Prime Minister and his family, she is a member of “Les Chefs des Chefs,” one of only two women in that large, illustrious club. She stands out big time, just as she did two nights ago. “It was also a thrill to be supporting Women Deliver” said Katie. “To raise funds and awareness for the great advocacy work they do was a personal honour.” (Proceeds from the event were directed to Women Deliver, an international organization that works to achieve a more gender equal world by supporting the health, rights and wellbeing of women and girls. Its global conference in 2019 is in Vancouver.)
In addition to the French embassy dinner, four restaurants in our region participated in the Gout de France: Signatures in Le Cordon Bleu, Les Vilains Garcons in Gatineau, La Table des Trois Vallées in the Ecole Hoteliere de l’Outaouais in Buckingham , and at the new Café 7 in the National Gallery.
Perhaps next year, there will be more? French gastronomy is found less and less on Ottawa-Gatineau restaurant plates. The Gout de France dinner made me nostalgic for the days when the Le, La, Les, Chez restaurants numbered in the… well, in the dozens anyway!
Thank you to the French Embassy for an evening that gave me much pleasure.