Video editing: Alejandro De Leon

Click on the video above for a behind-the-scenes look at our trip to Lake Massawippi


 

(Photo: Corey Arnold)

I’m standing on a frozen lake staring into a hole the size of a salad plate. Fifteen metres beneath my feet, near the muddy bottom of Lake Massawippi, there’s a tug on my line. The bright perch I reel in almost immediately freezes solid in the 20-below weather, its tiger-striped rainbow scales still luminous against the white canvas of the snow-covered lake. Man 1, Nature 0.

I’m outside of Manoir Hovey, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, where just yesterday, I’m told, a family of French tourists partook in this longstanding Québécois tradition. I’ve lured some of my favourite chefs out here to cook what we catch, along with the kind of comfort-food dishes you’d want to eat on a cold day – tweaked, of course, for the setting: a Relais & Châteaux country inn. Each chef gets one dinner course to create the ultimate winter potluck.

There’s Fred Morin, one of the masterminds behind the Joe Beef empire, who just released a cookbook to rave reviews. “Tastes like fishing,” he declares, cracking his first beer of the day at 11 a.m. The man unravelling what appears to be two miles of tangled fishing line is Normand Laprise, chef/owner of Restaurant Toqué! and Brasserie T!, and the burly fellow with the Ron Burgundy beard and immunity to cold is David Ferguson of Le Jolifou restaurant. Superstar Brazilian chef Roberta Sudbrack, who two days ago was strolling the beach in Rio, is currently jumping for joy in an enormous red parka as she brandishes a rapidly freezing perch. Our hosts are the Manoir Hovey chefs, Roland Ménard and Francis Wolf, who make this property a culinary destination.

Fishing guide Florent Hébert drills through thick ice with an auger;  the catch. (Photos: Corey Arnold)

It eventually becomes clear the fish are no longer biting. (The five we do catch weigh in at a grand total of barely a kilo, and, besides, we’ve finished off all the beer.) So, like a nomadic Inuit tribe of old, we make our way back across the frozen expanse to the manor. In spite of the cold, Morin gets busy laying out an alfresco picnic lunch on the patio while our sommelier, Etheliya Hananova of Lawrence restaurant, sabres the champagne with a bread knife commandeered by Laprise. Our hearts, at least, are warmed by the sight of tin after tin of smoked scallops and briny smoked oysters floating in their own oil, from B.C.’s St. Jean’s Cannery. There’s an entire side of cured salmon, jars of pickled eggs with chanterelles, soft cheese and fresh buns to spread it all onto. Morin carries out an old wooden apple box filled with snow and heaving with freshly shucked oysters that he pours a generous guzzle of vodka over. “That’ll keep them from freezing,” he says. To keep us from freezing, there’s a dark, steamy cassoulet with great hunks of gamy hare sausage and tender little white beans in rich gravy.

Brazilian chef Roberta Sudbrack makes like a Canadian in her new ice-fishing gear, courtesy of Canada Goose and the Bay. (Photo: Corey Arnold)

Someone gets the idea to plant the empty bottles of champagne in the snow as goal posts for an impromptu game of shinny on the inn’s hockey rink. Laprise proves to be a dedicated defenceman, hurling himself in front of multiple slapshots, his vintage Montreal Canadiens jersey all the padding he needs. Ménard feeds the puck to Sudbrack, who, despite never having played hockey before in her life, manages four goals and gets the MVP trophy (the puck).

While the rest of us are busy flailing around the ice, Ferguson builds a firepit beside the rink. He’s commandeered several more perch from the hotel’s freezer and is subjecting them, along with a big batch of poblano peppers, to a slow smoke.

Since Manoir Hovey’s main kitchen was undergoing major renovations – the new restaurant opened this past spring – the other chefs crowd into a makeshift facility no bigger than what you’d find in a typical apartment. So much for that old cliché about too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Chef Fred Morin carries a crate of freshly shucked oysters with writer Chris Johns. (Photo: Corey Arnold)

Laprise serves the first course. It’s more of a meal, actually: scrambled eggs with truffles, grilled cheese sandwiches with more truffles and slices of guinea hen terrine that Morin devours like a foie gras goose being stuffed. The eggs are ridiculous: creamy and light and flush with truffle flavour. “I store the truffle alongside the eggs for a few days, and the aroma goes right through the shell,” Laprise explains. “And I use 10 grams of butter for each serving.”

Ferguson offers a hearty salad of potatoes, arugula and lardoons, topped with the fish (now smoked into flaking tenderness) that we caught earlier in the day, but he refuses to part with his coveted mustard recipe. Hovey chefs Ménard and Wolf enter the dining room carrying two primordial venison roasts on a marble slab. It’s like something out of a Bruegel painting. Applause spontaneously breaks out. Thick slices of rare roast are joined by savoury sweet roasted tomatoes, homemade ravioli and goose sausage so gamy and delicious, I would swear that chef Wolf shot the bird himself.

Joe Beef’s housemade pickled eggs; fish cooking over an open flame. (Photo: Corey Arnold)

The prospect of dessert seems impossible, but here it comes. Chef Sudbrack presents bowls with apple cannelloni resting on a salted caramel sauce edged with minced pistachio. The table, previously buzzing with conversations in French, English and Portuguese, suddenly falls silent as people drag their cannelloni through the warm, salty sweet sauce. Paired with Clos Saragnat’s ice cider, it is among the best things I have ever eaten. Every plate is wiped clean.

The team from Manoir Hovey has one more surprise in store. Once again, they appear bearing huge platters, this time covered in snowballs strewn among pine branches and surrounded by powdery snow. “Have a bite,” Ménard suggests. The “snowballs” are made of meringue and the “snow” is puréed frozen yogurt. The pine needles are just pine needles.

Although it’s well after midnight, someone suggests we go back outside, where Ferguson has restoked the fire. We bundle up, grab the last bottles of wine and head back out into the snow. Beneath the sounds of our chatter, a low rumbling can be heard in the distance. It’s the ice, shifting and settling, adding its voice to our celebration.


Write to us: letters@enroutemag.net


Hovey’s roast venison with goose sausage and hare ravioli. (Photo: Virginia Macdonald)

Menu

Truffled grilled cheese sandwiches and scrambled eggs
Normand Laprise, Toqué!

Smoked perch on warm potato salad with homemade mustard and preserved lemon
David Ferguson, Le Jolifou

Halibut chowder
Francis Wolf and Roland Ménard, Manoir Hovey

Rapini with roasted poblanos
David Ferguson, Le Jolifou

Roast venison with hare ravioli, goose sausage and old-fashioned ketchup
Francis Wolf and Roland Ménard, Manoir Hovey

Apple cannelloni and pistachio flour
Roberta Sudbrack

Meringue winter still life with maple syrup (aka, snowballs)
Francis Wolf and Roland Ménard, Manoir Hovey

Picnic lunch provided by:
Frédéric Morin, Joe Beef 


The Wine List

Sparkling
La Perle Rosé, Domaine de l’Ocre Rouge (Aymeric Beaufort) 2007, Rhône Valley, France, raisonnance.net

Whites
Bourgogne La Sœur Cadette, Domaine de la Cadette 2009, France, oenopole.ca
Chardonnay-Seyval, Les Pervenches 2009, Eastern Townships, Quebec, laqv.ca

Reds
Bourgogne, Domaine Henri Naudin-Ferrand 2008, France, oenopole.ca
SP68, Arianna Occhipinti 2008, Sicily, Italy, oenopole.ca
Cahors Les Escures, Mas del Périé 2009, Midi-Pyrénées, France, vinealis.qc.ca

With Dessert
Ice Cider Avalanche, Clos Saragnat 2008, Eastern Townships, Quebec, laqv.ca

Sommelier: Etheliya Hananova
Lawrence Restaurant


Smoked Fish Salad

By David Ferguson

Chef David Ferguson’s smoked fish potato salad. (Photo: Virginia Macdonald)

Serves: 4–6 people

Ingredients

  • 4 Yukon potatoes, cubed, boiled
  • 1/4 cup lardoons, cooked; reserve fat
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • olive oil
  • 3 tbsp grainy mustard (not too strong)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp preserved lemon (or lemon zest)
  • 1 bunch fresh arugula, washed and dried
  • 1/2 cup béchamel (basic white sauce infused with nutmeg, roasted garlic and onion)
  • 12 oz smoked mackerel fillets (or other hot-smoked fish, though not salmon – its flesh is too delicate), cut into small strips

Directions
Sauté the potatoes, lardoons and shallots in the reserved fat and a little olive oil. Add mustard, red wine vinegar and lemon. Toss the potato mixture while it’s still warm in a bowl with the arugula. Drizzle the salad with béchamel warmed to just above room temperature, like for a baby’s bottle. Layer the strips of smoked fish onto the salad.


Apple Cannelloni

By Roberta Sudbrack

Photo: Virginia Macdonald

Serves: 8 people

Ingredients

Apple Cannelloni

  • 4 Fuji apples, peeled
  • 3 tbsp + 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • half a fresh vanilla bean
  • 8 sheets brick dough

Pistachio flour

  • 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • Fleur de sel to taste

Toffee

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1/2 cup fresh cream, warmed
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter

Directions

Preparing the apples
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut the apples into quarters and put them in a tray; dot apples with butter and sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Bake for about one hour or until apple quarters are soft and golden brown. If needed, baste with cooking liquid. Cut cooked apples into small pieces and set aside.

Pistachio flour
Chop the pistachios into fine pieces. Before serving, add the melted butter and a little fleur de sel.

Making the toffee
In a saucepan, combine sugar and water and heat without stirring until it turns a caramel colour. Take the pan off the heat and gradually stir in the fresh cream. Bring to a boil again and then add the butter and stir until it has a smooth, creamy consistency.

Assembling the cannelloni
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Top each sheet of dough with the baked apples and fold into cannelloni shape. Brush cannelloni with melted butter. Bake for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with toffee sauce and pistachio flour.


Restaurant Addresses

Le Jolifou
1840, rue Beaubien E., Montréal, 514-722-2175

Lawrence
5201, boul. Saint-Laurent, Montréal, 514-503-1070

Joe Beef
2491, rue Notre-Dame O., Montréal, 514-935-6504

Manoir Hovey
575, ch. Hovey, North Hatley, 800-661-2421

Roberta Sudbrack
Rua Lineu de Paula Machado, 916, Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro, 55-21-3874-0139

Toqué!
900, pl. Jean-Paul-Riopelle, Montréal, 514-499-2084


North Hatley, Québec
Travel Essentials


01 Even if you don’t have four visiting chefs in tow, you’ll always eat well at the country-luxe Manoir Hovey, whether in the Tap Room pub or at the recently renovated dining room.
manoirhovey.com

 

02 Fishing guide Florent Hébert will kit you out for a day on the ice, from drilling holes with his auger to serving you a cup of coffee in his heated tent. (Book through Hovey.)

 

03 We spent hours out on the lake without feeling the chill, thanks to our Canada Goose parkas, made with ethically supplied down and fur.
canada-goose.com

 

04 These rugged boots from Roots easily made the transition from the urban slush of Montreal to ice-covered Lake Massawippi. 
canada.roots.com

 

05 Our outdoor gear also included cashmere tuques, hunter’s caps and these nifty signature striped gloves and coats from the Bay.
thebay.com


Flight Planner

Your Ticket To This Month's Stories
North Hatley Via Montréal

Air Canada operates convenient daily flights to Montreal from Canada, the U.S. and international destinations. North Hatley is then a short drive away.