18 JUL 2011: Quebec’s Mont Tremblant Resort in summer is a bee-hive of activities. Families with kids in tow are paddling about Lac Tremblant, descending the trails of the alpine luge, taking the free gondola to the casino and hiking and biking about the area. The heroes of this resort town however are working twelve hour days, seven days a week behind the stoves, often in basements. These chefs revealed their secrets to me as I dined about.
Whatever the season, Tremblant’s pedestrian village has to deliver on the dining experience. “You can never close in a resort,” said Chef Eric Dubé who owns Quebec’s first Smoke’s Poutinerie. “Our busiest time is Christmas Eve and New Years.”
Dubé’s last job was executive chef at the Congress Centre before he bought the Poutinerie. Now he’s hand cutting and frying about 800 pounds of potatoes a day. He and his wife Carole who works behind the franchise’s busy counter, wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite opening hours of 11a.m. to 11p.m (and to 4a.m. on Fridays and Saturday) they’re enthused.
They enjoy the interaction with tourists, many from other countries who have never tried a dish of fries, cheese curds and gravy before which is the restaurant’s signature traditional poutine. “The customers are surprised but they love it and give us the thumbs up,” said Dubé. The curds are from the Eastern Townships, the gravy and fixings are fresh made every day and the frites are double fried. It may be fattening comfort food but it’s made with pride.
Chef Didier Grimard’s been at the helm of La Forge for seven years. He chooses the meat for this high-end steak house and knows exactly how to cook it right by look and touch. Seven days a week, for about 12 to 14 hour shifts, he works the line and keeps an eye on his sous chefs. The beef is Alberta Black Angus cooked over wood charcoal. He’d like to have all natural raised beef but the volume is a hindrance. “We’ve been working on this for three years now to get the supply,” he said. “We sell 15,000 kilos of meat a year.”
Chef Grimard’s working hours don’t faze him a bit. “I’m not unique among chefs. And here we have two quiet seasons,” he said. He gets about six weeks in late fall and in early spring to reconnect with his family and just chill out. (Before family life, he used to travel and estimates he has visited 45 countries.) “Now I stay home and cut the grass.”
At the Fairmont Tremblant supply is also an issue though they make every effort to buy locally. Sous-chef Carl Joyal, who’s in charge of banquets, told me that striploins come from Alberta but beef for the burgers come from nearby Morgan Farm. Venison is also local from Boileau Farm. Lamb comes from Quebec’s Charlevoix region unless it’s a big banquet order that only New Zealand lamb can fill. Onion soup is topped with local Oka cheese and flavoured with local St-Arnould beer from St-Jovite.
Fairmont Tremblant’s biggest initiative however is the Lifestyle Plus menu – a concept that was rolled out starting this April in all the Canadian Fairmont hotels. Gluten free, raw food, diabetic and vegetarian options are available to all guests. Each Fairmont comes up with its own dishes with the help of a computer program that analyses the ingredients.
La Diable Brewery has been in Tremblant village fifteen years, almost since the beginning of the Intrawest project. Pierre Jasmin, owner with André Poirier, said they originally planned to build the business and sell within a few years. They ended up falling in love with the place and the lifestyle. Jasmin who was a home brewer before they opened in 1995 went on to develop beer recipes for the restaurant and microbrewery. He’s still brewmaster but now has help for the daily brewing and equipment maintenance.
Six different beers are on tap at any given time. The brewery offers a complimentary tasting sample of all six for those who can’t make up their mind – if you order a glass of beer after. “Free when you buy,” said Jasmin, “don’t buy, it’s bye-bye.” A favourite hangout for locals, Le Diable also has quite an extensive menu with as much local ingredients as possible.
At the high end Aux Truffes, chef/owner Martin Faucher is a veteran of resort style dining. He started at the restaurant as a cook in 1999, then as a sous and finally as chef for seven years. Two years ago he bought the place. “I don’t need volume, I need foodies,” said Chef Faucher. “We have a great reputation. We are a destination.” His most famous dish is foie-gras stuffed duck.
“Tremblant is very seasonal,” said Chef Faucher. “I know when the tumble weeds will roll. I know when it cuts to zero.” On this sunny summer weekend however it was the opposite. “I got slammed. I was almost crying this week. Everyone arrived at once.” Needless to say he was practically living in his kitchen.
The last place I visited was Puesta del Sol, a Mexican restaurant with a wickedly delicious dark chocolate mole sauce for their chicken dishes and the freshest guacamole ever. Chef naturally had started at six in the morning after working until midnight the night before. The secret to all this dedication was passion. All the chefs were cooking with passion.