Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Toqué! Learning From The Best

Fig.1. A great looking book, both outside and within the covers.

Norman Laprise is the father of Quebec cuisine.  There, it’s been declared—no illusions or allusions to anything otherwise.  Can I back up this declaration? I can’t but Norman Laprise can:  His career as a chef began in the kitchens of Quebec City, where he chopped and sautéed his way toward Montreal and landed in Citrus in 1989, where Laprise was head chef. It didn’t take long for him to get noticed, four years later he opened Toqué! With Christine Lamarche; the rest is history. (Google it if you don’t believe me)
It is my opinion that Norman Laprise is this province’s premier food pioneer: It was Laprise who obsessed over freshness long before it was trendy to do so; as a result, he looked for food in nearby rivers, lakes and cattle fields, as freshness and proximity go hand in hand.  He has a connection with food and the earth, a connection that can only come from being raised as a farm boy, a connection that compels him to use his vegetables stem to seeds and his animals nose to tail.  He fuses local ingredients together, such as scallops and pine needles, opening up new flavor possibilities while simultaneously reshaping the local, food landscape. He’s committed to using the whole ingredient, a tomato in Laprise’s hands is squeezed, prodded, analyzed and respected until it gives up every ounce of flavor, scent, and taste it contains. The best part of all this is that Laprise does it for the food, as well as for himself: no fanfare and no vanity, just a respect for food and the desire to educate who he feeds; he also happens to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Fig.2. Toqué!'s take on a bacon lettuce and tomato. This BTL is a perfect example of Laprise's  approach: simple and elegant with an emphasis on freshness.

Motivated by food and sharing, Laprise began to work on a cookbook nearly three years ago, along with his business partner, Christine Lamarche, and Toqué!’s chef de cuisine, Charles-Antoine Crete.  This cookbook is a veritable gold mine of knowledge that will show you how to turn food into gold.  But if you read this book properly, it’s not just your food that will turn to gold, but your attitude toward food as well.
Buy yourself this cookbook for Christmas, you will not be disappointed: the stories are entertaining and illuminating, and the photographs are beautiful. And while the recipes might appear complicated at first glance, this complexity stems only from the visual beauty off of each recipe.  Read through the recipe and you’ll discover that Laprise’s approach to food is not one of complexity, but of honesty: take a few, simple ingredients, make sure they’re the best and freshest ingredients you can buy, grow or somehow procure, and love them until they’re cooked with style.
The Toqué! cookbook is available both in English and in French and can be found in most major book stores, as well as on Amazon.

Fig.3. Prosciutto and strawberries.