Are you an Ostrich or a Llama?
By Larry Mogelonsky, P. Eng.
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a historic property under the Fairmont banner, sits in the heart of the UNESCO-recognized Charlevoix region of Quebec. Known for its impeccable farms more closely resembling rural France than North America, the area was Canada’s first summer resort colony for wealthy patrons beginning in the late 18th century. The property opened in 1929, with a substantial $140-million renovation completed in 1999. Le Manoir Richelieu now stands as a majestic French castle overlooking the Saint Lawrence River that caters to anyone looking for an incredible getaway, or as a unique meeting venue.
Thus, reaching the level of executive chef at such a property is no easy feat. Here, executive chef Patrick Turcot took up the challenge of delivering a menu that not only embraces the bounty of local produce, but also goes beyond the call to generate pure excitement and a lasting impression.
Before my tasting meal, I met with chef Turcot in his office, a dual functioning administration center and private dining room for experimentation. My mission was to learn more about the region of Charlevoix through its hybrid culinary style of both haute Parisian fare and bucolic Quebec traditions adapted over the centuries of short growing seasons and relative isolation.
We stated with foie gras-stuffed macaroni (from the private farm of general manager Jean-Jacques Etcheberrigaray) paired with apple cider ice wine from the nearby L’Isle-aux-Coudres. As chef Turcot explained, “The true hero of the culinary arts is the local farmer. The quality of our ingredients has the greatest impact on the final dishes we deliver. In many ways, I think of my job as that of a symphony conductor, harnessing every aspect of our cuisine, tweaking every note, and then delivering a combination of flavors, textures and colors that excite the palate as well as the eye.”
The menu of Le Charlevoix, the property’s primary dining room, proudly diarizes the produce that is harvested within 50 km (30 miles) of the resort. I noted the names of 16 different farms and suppliers that provide vegetables, fruits, milk, cheese, poultry, duck, veal, beef, game, beer, cider, chocolate and baked goods. In addition, local fishermen are cited for a wide range of products, including lobster. Rare do you see a menu that heralds the source with this much precision.
But, as chef Turcot explains, a commitment to environmental stewardship is important. “I could ask for vegetables of a particular small size to meet needs for a specific period, and would get these delivered. But in doing so, I could literally ‘burn out’ that supplier. Hence, we need to balance our needs with the productive output of our local community. I don’t believe that this compromise impacts our guests, rather, it enhances the success of our long term source of supply.”
The menu, which changes regularly based upon local availability, included a four and five-course tasting menu, a vegetarian option, seven appetizers, three soups and 11 main courses of five different fish and six different meats. As well, there were separate menus for both the cheeses and the desserts.
The theme for my appetizer course was lobster. A serving of lobster parmentier (French shepherd’s pie) to start with lobster bisque and green tea-flavored mushrooms. Then came the entrée of foie gras-stuffed deer fillet, crosnes (artichokes) and duck gravy. Needless to say, it was exceptional.
Chef Turcot sees his role as more of an educator and experimenter. While I was there, I witnessed him working with several apprentice chefs. This is especially evident when Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu hosts Gala des Grands Chefs every year. It’s an opportunity for local chefs to share ideas and demonstrate their unique recipes. Chef Turcot and his team are more than happy to host, absorb and integrate these ideas, making a constantly evolving menu.
What are you doing to make your restaurants inclusive for locals as well as hotel guests?
If you ever get invited to this event, don’t walk, but run to Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. And for those who aren’t so lucky, there are still a few valuable takeaways from chef Turcot’s culinary expertise. What actions are you taking to incorporate local fare? Are you highlighting these actions on your menu? What are you doing to make your restaurants as inclusive for locals as well as hotel guests?