WORD OF MOUTH
Chef and Owner Au Pied de Cochon Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack
THE MAGIC OF MAPLE It’s been seven seasons since I bought Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack. But when I’m there, I feel as though I know less about syrup now than when I first embarked on this adventure. The more you know about maple syrup production, the more you understand and accept that you’ve grasped just a tiny fraction of this complex world. Maple syrup production is a field that embraces science, biology, technology, sociology, gastronomy and more. Maple syrup is one of the only products I know that has been with us since the early days of colonization and is a part of our unique identity. It is only found in a few small pockets of our planet. It also marks the territory of our ancestors and that of future generations. I firmly believe that maple syrup has to remain an everyday product and should not be regarded as exclusive; that would misrepresent it. This is the real challenge. It is abundant in nature, and so we should always be able to eat it with our pancakes without having to think twice. The day we start to be careful about how much we put on our plates will be the day we lose touch with a part of its intrinsic nature, its roots and, at the same time, a part of ourselves. I was in Spain when I first realized I wanted a sugar shack. I was in a small village, in a restaurant so small that I can barely remember it. And, oddly enough, that’s where the magic of maple first hit me.
There was a barrel of olive oil in the open kitchen. As I watched, the chef poured oil from the barrel into a jug, and this jug filled with olive oil was used for cooking. She fried prawns and chorizo in this oil, or rather she drowned them in this oil. I was rather shocked at how much oil she used and I was somewhat suspicious of the end result. After that, she made a simple salad with the same oil. However, this time she used only a small amount, just as you and I would. And then it felt like I was at home: she served the dish like my mother used to, with a slight air of detachment mixed with parental kindness. Then I tasted it and there was no longer any mystery: it was perfect. This dish was so well-balanced, and it honoured both its simplicity and complexity. The experience left an indelible impression, a place and time I will never forget. Olive oil is an exceptional product. There are oils for cooking, oils for dressing and oils for goodness knows what, sold in tiny bottles, huge vats and everything in between. But ultimately there is only one kind of olive oil, whether we use it lavishly or not, for cooking or for finishing a dish. What I saw in this tiny restaurant was the privilege that comes from having an abundant product and having ready access to a truly local ingredient. This freedom to be able to use one of the most popular products in the world without restraint hit me and immediately made me think of maple syrup from our own terroir.
It took us more than a year before finding Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack, which was plenty of time to evaluate the feasibility of such a project. As the days went by, the more I felt in my gut that I really wanted this experience. And all because of that one day when I ate in a small restaurant in Spain. Both of my grandfathers were farmers, and between them they had more than 140 grandchildren. But I am the only one to have purchased land later in life and become a part-time farmer. Thanks to this trip to Spain and thanks to maple syrup, I discovered dormant genes within me that just want to live the life of a “habitant” in the most noble sense of the word. These days we have a barrel of maple syrup in the evaporator, and from this barrel we pour maple syrup into a jug, and the filled jug of maple syrup is used for cooking and for perpetuating the pleasures of maple. Everything we do has its own little backstory. This one is so simple, yet so full of meaning. Cheers!
Watch Un Chef à la Cabane on Télé-Québec, presented by Quebec Maple Products and ilovemaple.ca