The G20 Series: France

21 Jun

By Chris Garbutt

Oh, France, why do you raise so many questions? Why don’t your people ever get fat when you have such a rich cuisine? How did you become the culinary capital of the world, and what happened that you no longer can hold that title (at least to yourself)? And what is the deal with Americans? Why are they so bugged by you?

To talk about France is inevitably to talk about its food. Bread, cheese, wine, pastry. France is where you confirm that food is culture. France inspired the great Julia Child (an American who seemed to be not-so-anti-France) to write cookbooks devoted to the country’s culinary greatness.

My introduction to French food came when I was 18* (hey – I grew up in Stouffville, okay?), and my parents took me out to celebrate my high school graduation to the restaurant they went to every year for their anniversary called La Chaumière. It’s long gone now, but I remember that the waiter brought our first course on a cart – trays of charcuterie, terrines, and uh, what’s the French word for antipasti? I was young, didn’t know better, so I loaded up. I can only imagine how gauche I looked. Then it was time for the main course – médallions de filet (beef) in a rich red wine sauce. I can still taste that dish as if it was next to me now. Fork tender, and almost buttery. (Now that I think about it, that course was probably quite literally very buttery.)

Years later, I had a chance to sit with a couple of friends on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec overlooking the St. Lawrence  River, tearing off hunks of baguette, smearing them with unpasteurized brie, and surreptitiously drinking red wine from a bottle of what was probably plonk, but to my untrained palate was a perfect complement.

My one brief visit to France was not a culinary delight, but that’s my own fault. I was travelling with a friend, we were young, and mostly we ate pizza and burgers. When I go back, I will remedy that crime against culinarity.

Today I have my own favourite local French restaurant – Auberge du Pommier, where I got married, and where we still go every year on our anniversary. We had a winter wedding, and the food they served was just a perfect complement to the weather, especially the mushroom soup appetizer. And there is no shortage of French choices in the city – Le Select is still going strong, as is Scaramouche, and, for that matter, Le Papillon, if your looking for something more Quebecois. Also check out Bodega and Celestin, the latter of which had a duck confit that made me light-headed it was so good. And don’t forget to get yourself some pastries at Patisserie Sébastien, Rahier, Clafouti or Bonjour Brioche. Yes you can get a good croissant in Toronto!

French food taught me that food is to be tasted, really tasted, and experienced. Flavour matters. Complexity and simplicity can live together in the same dish. And that you have to take your time. If it’s in a field of lavender in Provence, or a cliff in Quebec, so much the  better.


* All right, I’m lying. I had tried several versions of French Onion Soup in my youth, including one made by my very own mother.


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