No stranger to Nordic cuisines – I’ve dined very happily in all four Scandinavian countries, as well as Iceland – I was intrigued with the notion of “Boreal Cuisine” using only ingredients from this northern latitude. So when I heard about Chef Jean-Luc Boulay’s restaurant Chez Boulay bistro boreal in Old Québec, I was on the road north.
Chef Boulay and his associate, Arnaud Marchand, opened Chez Boulay bistro to showcase their concept: nordic-inspired cuisine that features regional products harvested and served seasonally. Before dinner I had a chance to speak with Arnaud Marchand, and he explained their concept of a menu based responsible cultivation and harvesting of products of the boreal forest regions, and those that are unique to the Nordic climate.
“It’s a good way to get back to our roots,” he told me, then went on to discuss the health and nutritional advantages of these ingredients. Not only is it always better to cook with seasonal products that have been harvested at their prime and not shipped halfway around the world, but these northern ingredients are especially nutrient filled. Nordic cuisine uses either lean fish such as cod, which are especially rich in proteins, or those — salmon, mackerel and trout – that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Game meat is very rich in proteins and almost completely without saturated fats. The vegetables and berries from the region are rich in antioxidants and in vitamins B and C. Nice to know, especially as all these are also delicious.
But Boulay’s and Marchand’s quest and commitment goes further, with a determination to use only those ingredients.
“That means we have no lemons, no olive oil, no exotic spices, no cane sugar.” So the two chefs set out to learn about local plants and trees, relying on native lore and their own experiments. They discovered some interesting substitutes that have opened up a whole new – and northern – world of flavors. Take fragrant fir tips, for example, and the cranberry seed oil they serve for dipping bread. For aromatics they discovered Labrador tea, wintergreen and peppery green alder. Wild ginger grows here, and sea salt is plentiful, along with a full range of herbs that thrive in northern gardens.
Not that they feel they need to reproduce every sort of dish, but they have a wide range of ingredients to try out in traditional dishes of southern latitudes: risottos are made from barley and spelt, both of which grow in the shorter northern season.
Although they have a fairly wide palette of vegetables that grow in local farms, their explorations into wild native foods have turned up some delicious finds: wild celery root, cattail hearts (very much like hearts of palm) and piquant capers made from oxeye daisy buds. In addition to the obvious maple syrup, they can use birch and cherry syrup; although they have ample apples for cider vinegar, elderberry and cranberry vinegars give a darker more fruity tartness to salads.
The proof of boreal – or any other – cuisine is in the eating, of course. Stay tuned to hear about the dinner that followed our conversation.
Chez Boulay bistro boreal is in the heart of Old Québec, at 1110 Saint-Jean St., adjoining the lobby of Hotel Manoir Victoria. Reserve at 418.380.8166