France is home to the concept of terroir – the taste of a specific place – the combination of geography and season, history and culture, tradition and food that give each region its unique flavour. Chef Chantal Véchambre combines her study of the history of French cuisine with decades of experience in the kitchen to offer us a glimpse into the diverse food of France.
Brittany has long held a special place in the French imagination, a Western region of the country with wild landscapes and independent people. Facing the ocean, Brittany gave France some of the most famous sailors in its history, including Jacques Cartier, born in Saint Malo. Following his lead, many Bretons left France and headed to Canada to create the Nouvelle France of the 17th and 18th centuries. Their culinary legacy is deep part of our own cultural heritage as Canadians.
Galettes — not to be confused with crêpes — are traditionally made with buckwheat (sarrasin), an ancestral grain, grown in Brittany since the Middle Ages when Crusaders brought back it from the Middle East. These galettes are prepared in a similar manner to crêpes, and when rolled around a sausage in Haute Breton, are well known as Galettes-saucisse or « robiquettes »
Mussels can be found in nearly every market in Brittany, or you can even harvest them yourself if you know the good locations! The most traditional way to eat them is « À la marinière », cooked in bulk with their shells, with cider, shallots, garlic and served topped with parsley; he resulting broth that forms is truly delicious. Some think eating mussels with your hands, using the shells as tongs, is the surest way to experience the spirit of Brittany!
Beside shellfish, Brittany’s coastal location gives it access to many kinds of fish. One classic preparation is with Sauce Armoricaine. Tomato, brandy, saffron, cream, and pepper are combined to create a perfectly smooth sauce in which a firm white fish like halibut is gently cooked. Originally named after the rustic Armoric countryside, some enterprising restaurant chefs thought it sounded more exotic or « chic » to tweak it to Sauce Americaine, which has since become a classic white-linen recipe for lobster.
Garniture de légumes
The heart of Brittany is known for numerous and specific vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, artichokes, and more. Some varietals, like Oignons Rouges de Roscoff (red onions) and Cocos de Paimpol (white kidney beans) have been recognized and protected by specific terroir appellations for years. Any of them, gently cooked, make a lovely side for fresh fish.
Crêpes au Caramel à la Fleur de Sel
Likely there’s no need to introduce these famous thin pancakes, as they are one of France’s best known delicacies. Here they are topped with a homemade caramel sauce flavoured with Fleur de Sel, a delicate flaky sea salt gathered from salt marshes along the French coast.
Les kouignettes are essentially the “cupcake” version of the signature Breton cake known as kouign amann, a delicious, buttery puff pastry rolled with caramel and rum-soaked sultanas.
Chantal Véchambre, originally from Paris, is a chef certified in both French cuisine and pastry-chocolate. In 2005 she moved to New Brunswick where she began her own business as caterer. Her independent research in culinary history led her to the Fortress of Louisbourg (Nova Scotia), a National Historic Site of Canada, where she developed new recipes for the site’s restaurant, and culinary workshops to the public, inspired by the 18th century recipes. She wrote the award-winning book French Taste in Atlantic Canada, 1604-1758, A Gastronomic History (CBU Press), featuring ingredients and recipes of the colonial period. Now established in Toronto, she pursues food writing and cooking ventures about French cuisine: supper clubs, events, private and corporate catering, as well as ongoing research into Canadian and French culinary history.
Every weekend The Depanneur invites an amateur or professional guest chef to host a fun, informal dinner party.