Growing up in Montreal, I frequently visited traditional cabane a sucres with my elementary school. I remember the horse and buggy rides (along with the smell), seeing the maple trees tapped with little spouts and buckets hanging off of them, and of course the food, which at a young age I enjoyed, but clearly wasn’t the focal point of the field trip. However, fèves au lard, pea soup, and my favorite, la tire d’érable were the comforting ones that I remember vividly. Like most, I outgrew the cabane a sucre and the memories faded away as I grew up. Fast forward to present day: I miss it dearly. I miss the smell of the fresh winter country air, the slowly melting snow, and the site of log cabins with large puffs of smoke erupting from the chimney. I needed to experience this adventure again; I wanted to feel like a kid, only as an adult. There is only one place that can make me feel like that again.
It took me 2 years to finally get a reservation at the Au Pied de Cochon Cabane a Sucre, one of the most exclusive venues of it’s kind since the restaurant is only open for a few weeks. Reservations normally open at the beginning of December, but I took a chance and emailed them in October. Finally, I received a call in February (!) to book a table for 12 in March. The anticipation was almost impossible to endure.
As 11 of my friends and I waited outside for out table to be ready, Eric Bana (from The Incredible Hulk, Munich, Star Trek, and more) walked out of a van with his family and into the bustling dining room. Cool! Then Martin Picard himself came outside, waved hello, jumped in his tractor, and drove off wherever he was going. He looks the same in person as he does on his Food Network TV show, The Wild Chef. Then, the host came out and directed us to our table…in the kitchen!!! Ha! A Hollywood movie star had to sit with the crowd, while we had the chef’s table. I didn’t ask for this, the kind host simply said, “You’re a bigger group than we would normally have, so we thought it would be fun for all of you to dine in the kitchen and see how everything happens”. Fun indeed. We walked past the maple syrup room (which they produce in house), the ginormous red smoker, a couple of leather couches draped with pieces of animal fur, and finally through a door at the back into the enormous kitchen. The chefs dressed in confortable, casual attire such as jeans, t-shirts, tuques, and plaid shirts fit surprisingly perfect with the stuffed, stiff animals perched on the wooden cross beams above.
On to the food. Our waiter told/warned us that in the mix of appetizers, entrees, and desserts we’re going to constantly receive food. I don’t think anyone can physically prepare an appetite for this. Naturally, I thought I did.
We started with oysters with maple gelée served on a bed of coarse sea salt on a section of a tree trunk. Great sweet and salty flavor. Then we had tempura fried créton sushi with maple-soya dipping sauce, which was up there with some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. After that came mixed greens and ham cubes drenched in maple balsamic dressing, then covered with “oreilles de crisses”, or pork rinds. I can’t believe they served salad, but it was amazing. The orilles de crisses we so light and crispy it almost had a popcorn-like texture. Also, we had smoked sturgeon with buckwheat blinis, and a creamy sauce. I made a little sandwich out of this, and boy was this good. The smokey, sweet flavor really set it off. The famous tourtière arrived also on a thick slice of maple tree trunk. Paired with home-made ketchup, this traditional meat pie was succulent, beautifully seasoned, and the crust was flaky and delicious. Then, a flash of my childhood came back as soon as I slurped the adultified version of the warm pea soup spiked with bits of foie gras. I was 7 years old again if only for a few moments. My bowl was right in my face because the spoon couldn’t be closer to my mouth. Deep breath….that was the end of the appetizers.
The 20 minute lull between courses was necessary. Our waiter reeled in a cart of 4 dishes that, just by the site of it, would surely move us into a food-coma. Arriving first, a whole hen roasted with the head and feet still attached, glazed with maple syrup, with lightly seared gnocchi scattered around the baking dish. Some of the drippings from the bird went on the gnocchi, which added some great sweet flavor. Next, the lobster omelet was light, and bursting with that great seafood taste. Chunks of roasted potatoes, and bits of lobster claw populated the fluffy soufflé. And just for that added APDC charm, the lobster head was sticking out from the edge of the Le Creuset pan that housed it. Also, served in a can for that rustic feel, baked beans with a dollop of cottage cheese created the other familiar taste of fèves au lard. Then, the “big guy”: a 14 hour maple wood-smoked whole leg of pork over roasted carrots and turnips. The skin was so crispy, it was like eating the most incredible bacon cracker. The meat was juicy, tender, and bursting with smokey goodness. All the love was here.
The next 20 minute break was just as necessary as the last one. The chefs asked us if we were full, to which we replied, “Oh yes, I don’t think I can fit much more food in body”. They then said “If you feel that way, then dessert will destroy you”. As we watched them prepare our sweet finish, we were excited and scared for what were going to end with. A frozen ice cream-nougat covered in chocolate sauce, sprinkled with pecans, then garnished with maple cotton candy was gently displayed in front of me. I served up this cold treat, and it was truly amazing. Everyone went crazy over this one. Also, the tarte-tatin, made with local apples from down the road, covered with two more-than-generous scoops of vanilla ice cream was heavenly. The last little taste of childhood did not change. Strips of la tire d’érable lined the dish full of snow. The popsicle sticks were just waiting for me to twirl the sticky syrup around it, and enjoy the licks that followed. This is my absolute weakness. To cap off the excessive gorging of food, we gobbled down pancakes deep fried in duck fat, smothered in maple syrup. When we saw the chef drizzling the syrup on, she looked at us and asked if we wanted her to pour more. How can refuse? Half the pitcher of syrup flooded the pancakes. This, believe it or not, put me over the top…since I had 2.
What can I say, except for wow. The incredible meal at the Au Pied de Cochon Cabane a Sucre surpassed my expectations beyond belief. I was told about how good the meal is and what I should expect going in, but seriously, I don’t think anyone can prepare for this. It was simply remarkable. We chatted with the very friendly Martin Picard at various points throughout the meal. His visions are clearly portrayed in the rustic, comfortable atmosphere, and I can’t really say much more about the food. What a great chef. I already marked my calendar, so I can reserve for next year. I’m looking forward to it.
Here is a picture of our group with the Wild Chef (I’m to Martin Picard’s left, in the front, wearing the plaid shirt).