It was on Québec’s Plains of Abraham that France lost her piece of North America.  For three months in the summer of 1759, British redcoats commanded by General James Wolfe, battered themselves against Québec City’s walls and unassailable cliffs.  Wolfe’s regulars and colonial allies had chipped away at French New World holdings, shattering the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, the year before. 

Facing Wolfe, perched in the walled city above the St. Lawrence River, Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm readied his troops and New French militia.  When Wolfe found a back way up the precipice, the two generals, two armies, proxies for two of Europe’s greatest powers, met on the open fields beyond the city’s bastions.  Wolfe successfully broke the French advance, and in 20 minutes, France lost North America, both generals lost their lives, and the mold was cast for the modern Québequoise. 

That amalgamation of French tempered with English, combined with strong agrarian and maritime traditions and ample natural resources has fostered a distinctive cuisine that takes maximum advantage of the region’s produits de terroir, produce of the terrain.  Quebec has established a Gourmet Route that winds along the St. Lawrence, linking examples of the region’s rich culinary heritage. 

picThe route really begins in Montreal’s sprawling Jean Talon market, the largest open-air market in North America.  Aisle after aisle of produce and specialty food stalls pour out colors, textures, and smells that all vie for attention.  From apples to pastries to olive oils and three colors of cauliflower, each row has something different to offer, and the rows stretch on into the distance, all teeming with good stuff to eat.

From Montreal, Via Rail connects to Québec City, the next major stop on the Gourmet Route.  Much of the market fruits and vegetables and a range of other farm products come from Charlevoix and areas around Québec.  Proximity to the growers enables many of the city’s restaurants to offer exquisitely fresh produce and merge classical recipes with regional specialties.  In Chef Jean Luc Boulay’s menu at the magnificent Le Saint Amour, items from as many as 70 local producers appear in the lineup of fine French dishes.  The restaurant’s elegant, open interior and superb selection of wines add to the dining adventure.

pic“Our restaurants stay forever,” said Richard Séguin of Québec City Tourism.  “It’s very stabilizing.  People here like their restaurants.”

Restaurant l’Utopie’s also favors produits de terroir but with a different approach.  It’s 7-course tasting dinner is Chef Stepahne Modat’s invitation to join with him in his gastronomic playground.  “We are looking to create an effect in your mouth,” said sommelier Jean Sebastian.  “Every detail contributes.”  Iced fois gras, hibiscus mousse, a complementing wine with each course:  The food challenges, provokes, dares us to go with the chef.  One course directly leads to the next in a logical, flowing progression.  Cantaloupe puree, rhubarb, duck breasts:  He mixes tastes and elements designed to intrigue and stretch conventional notions about food and wine.

North from Québec City, Ile d’Orléans is known for the frais d’Orléans strawberry and its Lobo apples.  Throughout the province, locally made apple ciders have overtaken the role of grape wines.  Ciders are not necessarily apple, not necessarily sweet, and can command a price similar to a good red wine.

The Charlevoix region of Quebec Province maintains its portion of the Gourmet Route as the Route des Saveurs, the Flavor Road.  “Charlevoix was the first region to build a tourism route focused on high gastronomy,” said tour guide Charles Roberge.  The “economuseum” system began here, uniting a network of 27 artisans; each one a part museum, part working producer, promoting traditional trades.  Roberge also noted that, within sight of the highest peak in the Laurentian Mountains, the region has the first Canadian national marine park and plays host to six species of whales.

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