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 it’s unique specialities. Chef Chantal Véchambre combines her study of the history of French cuisine with decades of experience in the kitchen to offer this first installment in a series exploring regional French cuisine.
Tonight’s dinner is based in Auvergne, a region in central France known for its rounded hilltops called puys (the remnants of ancient extinct volcanoes). It is renowned for its hearty peasant-style cooking featuring the characteristic ingredients (e.g. Lentil du Puy), cheese and wines that have been produced in the area for centuries.
A typical late-winter menu would feature potatoes, lentils and cabbage, salted pork, cheese and wine, apples, butter and flour… hearty fare for the cold weather, making the most of the last of the winter pantry in anticipation or the first new crops of Spring.
Aligot – a rich, fondue-like dish of flavourful cheese vigorously beaten into a delicate potato purée.
Soupe aux Lentilles – a classic French winter soup, made with the famous Lentilles Vertes du Puy that are unique to this region (recognized and protected by an AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) designation), simmered with onions, pork belly and stock.
Coq au Vin – one of the most quintessential dishes in the French repetoire, this dish can trace its history all the way back to when Caesar invaded the Gaulle. Chicken slow-braised with lardons, mushroom, carrot, celery, onion and lots and lots of wine that reduces into an intensely dark and flavourful sauce.
Truffade – thinly sliced potatoes and cheese combined into a sort of thick gratin/casserole and baked in the oven. Perhaps a little unsightly, but undeniably delicious.
Galette au Chou – A sort of cabbage “pâte” – like a deep-dish crustless cabbage pie – seasoned with shallots, garlic and herbs
Flaugnard – sliced pears arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. Similar to a clafoutis (which is made with cherries), it gets its name from the Occitan dialect word for “soft” or “downy”.
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.