Food travels and people travel for food. Such is the history of the world and such is the world now.
Such were my thoughts as I ate my way through Québec’s capital. The culinary landscape of Québec City is anchored in four centuries of French-ness. It’s impossible to walk down any of the cobblestone streets in this ancient walled North American city and not notice the delightful smell of baguettes or the restaurants that serve ris de veau and rabbit loin in mustard sauce. On the surface, it might all look like a bit of a tourist circus, but underneath the show lies an authentic lineage of recipes and traditions that all point back to Europe.
Chez Paillard (on Rue St. Jean) is a relatively new boulangerie in Québec City, but its repertoire is severely traditionalist. Most of the bakers and pâtissiers come from France and their methods are classical. Their ultimate claim? That they bake the truest and best-tasting croissant in North America. Their secret? Real New Zealand butter–and lots of it. I ate one to verify, and it tasted like everything I miss about France.
Still, it was the gelato that had me gawking–dozens of different flavors and all of them so fresh. I think the pineapple basil and watermelon were my favorites, but it was the chocolate gelato that I watched come to life as I sneaked into the upstairs kitchen. Thierry Trovatelli is a Swiss-Italian immigrant to Québec and a professional gelatiere who spends his days mixing up pots of rich gelato. Some of you have said you envy my job, but I envy Thierry. Watching him at work in his kitchen corner was like watching a child at play. He was having a lot of fun and I was having fun just watching.
I didn’t know there were people who spent their whole lives dedicated to making gelato, but Thierry is one of them. He learned the trade in Italy and carried his expertise to Québec. Thierry told me that the biggest compliment of his career came from an 7-year old Sicilian boy, who after taking a bite of his gelato, turned to his mother and said (in Italian), “This is better than the gelato we have back at home.”
The fact that Québec still welcomes so many French-speaking European immigrants has a lot to do with the separate and very high standard of cuisine in this city. That this much talent and craft go into a single bite of gelato is a testament to how serious this city is about their food.
“On mange bien au Québec–We we eat well in Québec,” explained Jean Soulard, an immigrant from France and head chef at the famous Chateau Frontenac, “And in Québec, it’s very important to eat well.”