I remember first hearing the name Normand Laprise when I first moved to Montreal. He was the chef at the now long-time defunct Citrus restaurant. I was an interior design student back then and Citrus was one of the hot spots in town. Some 20-plus years later, Normand Laprise hasn’t lost any of that spark.
It took chef Laprise close to 20 years to decide to write a cookbook and 3 years to put the finishing touches on the Toqué! book, which is coming out in English on November 28th. The most famous of Quebec chefs didn’t take the easy way out by writing a straightforward cookbook. The Toqué! Creators of a new Quebec gastronomy book is first and foremost, an ode to all the artisans who have contributed on a daily basis in making Toqué! the best restaurant in Quebec for the past 20 years.
The Toqué! story starts with the dream team of chef owner Normand Laprise, co-owner Christine Lamarche and chef de cuisine Charles-Antoine Crête. The 3 work in perfect harmony to bring us the uniquely creative and elegant cuisine we have come to love. Chef Laprise was a proponent of using local ingredients unique to the land before it was fashionable to do so. He has built special relationships with his purveyors and they have all been key components in propelling Toqué! to the top.
Although both Laprise and Crête don’t seem to think so, some of the book’s recipes might be too complex for the amateur home cook. However, this is so much more than a cookbook. It is a voyage from the Toqué! kitchen in Old Montreal to the fields, forests, lakes and shores across this great province of ours. We are led on a discovery of some of Toqué!’s favourite producers who are beautifully portrayed throughout the 450-page volume. Each one of these unique individuals, from deer breeders to artisanal fishermen to foragers, has a special connection to the restaurant and its team.
I asked chef Laprise what his favourite recipe in the book was, the one he would recommend to someone if they could only make one thing only. He turned to a recipe that started with “Kill the pig and wait a few minutes to make sure it’s dead”. I don’t think I’ll be trying that one anytime soon but it all goes back to Laprise’s philosophy of knowing where your food comes from and the journey it makes before it gets to your plate.
It would be a shame to talk about the book without mentioning Dominique Malaterre’s breathtaking photos, whether on site at the restaurant or criss-crossing the province in search of the perfect shot. She has managed to beautifully capture the Toqué! spirit.
Girly Cranberries (photo above)
Serves 4 to 6; Cooking: 1:30 hrs
- 1 kg (2 lb) cranberries
- 375 ml (1 ½ cups) water
- 120 g (1/2 cup) sugar
- In a saucepan, over medium heat, cook the cranberries with the water and sugar between 10 and 15 minutes, until all the fruits have burst. Pass through a sieve without pressing on the fruits too hard. Keep the water to make the syrup. Pass the pulp through a food processor and set aside to be used for both the chips and sorbet recipes.
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) water
- 120 g (1/2 cup) sugar
- Cranberry pulp
- In a saucepan, over medium heat, cook the water and sugar together until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Mix 900 g (3 cups) of the cranberry purée with the simple syrup made from sugar and water. Pass through an ice-cream maker. Let rest in the freezer.
- 60 g (1/4 cup) sugar
- In a saucepan, over medium heat, let the reserved cranberry water and the sugar simmer until the mixture has a syrupy consistency.
- 6 egg whites
- 240 g (1 cup) sugar
- Preheat the oven to 110°C (225°F). Using a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites while gradually adding the sugar. Mix a quarter of this meringue with 100 g (1/2 cups) of the reserved cranberry purée. Using a spatula, delicately fold this mixture into the rest of the meringue. With a bent spatula, spread the preparation 5 mm (1/4 in) thick on a silicone baking mat. Separate the preparation into four sectors by making a cross with the end of a wooden spoon. This will ensure that the cooking is uniform. Make sure that the four pieces made in this way do not touch each other.
- Bake for 25 minutes. Turn the baking mat 180 degrees, and cook for another 25 minutes. Flip the baking mat over on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, remove the baking mat and cook another 25 minutes, until the preparation is dry to the touch (your finger shouldn’t leave a mark). (Adjust the cooking time according to the texture of your mixture. The preparation should become crunchy after 5 minutes.) Slice into 5 cm x 8 cm (2 in x 3 in) rectangles.
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) thyme oil
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) whipped cream
- Fresh thyme
- Maldon salt
- 2 tbsp dried olives, chopped
- In each plate, drizzle thyme oil and cranberry syrup. Place a scoop of sorbet. Stack 3 chips one over the other, and spread with whipped cream. Add thyme, Maldon salt and dried olives.
If you don’t have thyme oil handy, make some in the following way:
- In a saucepan filled with boiling water, blanch 120 g (3 cups) of thyme leaves for 30 seconds. In a food processor, grind them quickly with 250 ml (1 cup) grapeseed oil. Pour into a bowl and place this bowl in a second one filled with ice water to fix the preparation’s colour. Let infuse in the refrigerator for 4 hours.
- Remove from the refrigerator and let the oil warm up to room temperature. Pass through a coffee filter, and reserve.
For a behind-the-scenes sneak peak at this stunning book, take a look at this video.
The Toqué cookbook is available in French and English in all good bookstores as well as on Amazon.
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