Poutine no longer just a cheesy junk food treat
Published Monday, September 1, 2008 9:08AM EDT
Drummondville, Que. - A foie gras poutine served at a festival in the central Quebec town Drummondville confirms the dish's place in the world of haute cuisine.
One of the purported birthplaces of Quebec's best-known dish - the french fry, cheese curd and gravy melange - held its first poutine festival last weekend.
Mario Patry was the professional chef in charge of the Festival de la poutine de Drummondville.
"That's mine, that's my creation," he said of the foie gras poutine being sold.
"People want to eat better and better. And they're connoisseurs."
The town of 67,000, about an hour from Montreal, is where restaurateur Jean-Paul Roy of Le Roy Jucep restaurant claims to have invented the dish in 1964. The Quebec towns Warwick and Victoriaville also lay claim to being poutine's birthplace.
Members of Les Trois Accords, a popular Quebec rock group, organized the festival.
Band manager Charles Ouellet said members of the Drummondville-based group had been talking about organizing the festival for years.
"Poutine is very important to Drummondville," he said.
"You associate Drummondville with poutine, not Rimouski."
"I don't know why (poutine has) become high class," Ouellet said.
"People were shy to eat it - it's working class. So maybe they tried to dress it up."
"All poutines are great. Though certainly I have a hard time paying $18 for a poutine."
The poutine that may have brought the meal into the upper-crust of the food community actually goes for $23.
Au Pied de Cochon, a Montreal restaurant with an international reputation and a cult following, first topped poutine with 100 grams of duck foie gras back in 2002.
"There is a strong argument to be made that the recent rise in interest in poutine can be traced to the time Au Pied de Cochon started offering its poutine au foie gras," said Bob Rutledge in an email interview.
Rutledge is a professor of astrophysics at McGill University and runs the website montrealpoutine.com.
"What makes that poutine special isn't that they throw a slab of foie gras on top. In fact, they incorporate foie gras into...the sauce they use and it is tremendous. The foie gras added on top is almost secondary," he said.
It's a long way from the meal's working-class roots, although restaurateurs have been offering variations on the dish for decades.
Le Roy Jucep has 16 different kinds on its menu.
A popular poutine spot in Montreal, La Banquise, has 25.
And there are variations, even with the classic poutine.
Restaurants in the Drummondville region traditionally add a tomato puree to their sauce, increasing its sweetness.
In Montreal, poutine is the commonly made with a dark-brown, chicken-based gravy.
Now, haute cuisine versions of the poutine are setting the standards for how it should taste and are upping the bar, said Rutledge.
Sherbrooke resident Mathieu Pelletier, who attended the festival, agreed.
"I think next year they should push the refined side of poutine," he said after trying Patry's foie gras version.
"It's rethinking the classics."
Poutine is one of many low-brow foods given a high-minded treatment, putting it in the company of lobster, okra, and pizza as foods that have been gussied up for the upper classes, said Rutledge.
"The result of these efforts is that more 'normal' poutine places step up their games."
Still, the classic poutine is a perennial favourite.
Of the 1,500 poutines sold at the festival on Friday alone, most were the traditional version.
"The classic will always have a place," Patry said.
"It will always be the ultimate poutine"