If we look at the current cross-Canada popularity of the fries/cheese/gravy madness known as poutine, we might call those picking it up at Burger King bandwagon jumpers. But on the other end of the spectrum, we have those seeking it out via top restos, where plagiarized versions of Montrealer Chuck Hughes’ Iron Chef-winning lobster poutine are being shamelessly served up. We might call those foodie folks; bandwagon connoisseurs. Regardless of how we each join in this new poutine parade, we here at Notable are on board! And as culture and culinary-loving young professionals (YPs), we just have to know: how did this carb-filled, congealed Québécois staple become such a national, and even international, obsession? And more importantly, how come we can’t we stop shoving it into our mouths? The simple answer would be because it’s just that damn good. But if a more in-depth explanation is what you crave, we have found just the expert to untangle this mouthwatering mystery.
Cue the poutine pro
Annie Barsalou is the owner of La Banquise, a locally loved, tourist sought, always lined up, 24-hour-a-day piece of Montreal poutine heaven that’s been dishing it out for over 35 years. When I asked Annie why she thought poutine has so enthusiastically reached beyond its traditional cultural roots, she pointed to its versatility: “Poutine became so popular when restaurateurs started to improve on the classic meal, with different toppings or by varying the presentation with different types of fries, cheeses, or gravies. While still calling it a poutine, these dishes were able to reach more people with different tastes.”
You fancy, huh?
While poutine is still, at its heart, the same simple three ingredients it’s been for over 50 years, chefs like Chuck Hughes, and now many others, have helped sell the Quebec icon to the international patron with their gourmet cooking methods and lavish accouterments. “Now in some fabulous restaurants you can find a fancy poutine with ‘foie gras’, or fries cooked in ‘gras de canard’ with a gravy signed by a renowned Chef,” but, as Annie is sure to note, “always still the three basic ingredients.”
But what inspired Quebec chefs to look at that mound of greasy goodness and imagine it as a canvas for such decadence? “When head chefs are concocting a traditional meal like poutine, I think they want to show people our Quebec traditions and beautiful local products with skill,” Annie says. She also feels very proud that poutine has become so popular within all layers of society and now in so many places. “Everybody can appreciate this meal.”
One hit wonder?
So, Canadian YP trendsters, what do you think? Is poutine destined to become just another fleeting foodie trend, or will this be a lasting love affair? Annie thinks it’s here for the long term, but only if restaurateurs create their own recipes from their own local product. For example, she says, in the Maritimes with crab, and maybe in Alberta,with a meat recipe special to the region.
Like Annie, we too hope that poutine sticks around and further evolves into unique regional varieties because, just as she gushes, “poutine is a comfort food associated with good memories of childhood, or of 3am, after a good night out with friends.”
Top photo courtesy La Banquise