Jean-Christophe Poirier from Vancouver’s St Lawrence Restaurant: 2019 Maverick Chefs
Every October, we announce the Canadians that have changed up the culinary scene. Our 2019 Maverick Chefs connect people in a unique way. Suzanne Barr is active in her community. Among other things, she uses her success as a chef to give others a start in the industry by helping them learn valuable kitchen skills. Marcel Larrea brought Nikkei to Montreal, and the cooks out of the kitchen. Jean-Christophe Poirier created a piece of his Quebec home town in Vancouver to give the West Coast a taste of the East. Our Mav Sommelier Bryant Mao connects with people every day, introducing them to wines and drinks made by Canadian producers around the world.
This week, we hear from Jean-Christophe Poirier and his piece of Quebec in Vancouver.
St Lawrence Restaurant, Vancouver
St Lawrence Restaurant is a passion project for Quebec-born Poirier. After two years of delays, he was able to open his little piece of Quebec in Vancouver and carve out a unique niche in Vancouver’s dining landscape. He has drawn from his culinary schooling and his experience working at Les Remparts in Old Montreal and Toqué — a Québécois haute cuisine restaurant focussed on seasonality and terroir — to create a space that is 100 percent French, from the food style to the ambience and even the music. At St Lawrence Restaurant, Poirier combines old-school French cooking techniques with Quebecois cuisine to create dishes that embody food from his childhood.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Food can connect people of all ages, no matter their sex or race. Its power is the same all around the world. Food culture is the number one thing that bring people together and it’s often the number one conversation subject. To cook well, you need to love eating and you need to love the people for whom you are cooking. I have always cooked to give pleasure and joy and to bring the people I cook for and myself closer together. This is what I try to do every day at St Lawrence. It’s why I became a chef and that’s what inspired me to be better.
Why did you decide to open a restaurant in BC?
I have often thought about returning to Quebec, but I have too much going on in BC. St Lawrence was my opportunity to build something as close as possible to the idea of coming back home. I saw the chance for me to represent my culture and the people of Quebec in a different province.
I read that St Lawrence’s launch was delayed many times. Can you share what happened and how it felt to open the doors in 2017?
Many restaurateurs in Vancouver would agree with me that city hall is a big mess. Permits and the building changing its use were the big problems. The city of Vancouver is an obstacle to any entrepreneur that wants to open their own business, which is unacceptable. But success depends on a certain preparation and I had lots of extra time to get ready and to shape my vision. It turned out in my favour.
Until recently, St Lawrence has been part of the Kitchen Table Restaurant Group. Why did you decide to branch off and how does it feel to be an independent restaurant owner?
I have found my true passion in St Lawrence and I have a deep desire to continue to push the limits of possibility within the restaurant. For this reason, I believe it is necessary for me to focus all my energy on St Lawrence alone. Freedom is one of my core values. To be 100 percent chef and owner is a rare situation in this industry. I feel privileged, lucky and excited for this new chapter of my life.
How is the culinary scene in Vancouver different from the one in Quebec in your experience?
In general, the food scene in Quebec is more laid back and fun yet maintains a high standard for products and execution. Restaurants on the West Coast take themselves way too seriously.
How often do you change up your menu and what influences the selections you make?
I only change the menu twice a year. Instead, we do features every night. Seasonality, ingredients and collaboration with other cooks influence my decisions.
You refined your menu through collaborative pop-up dinners. How have they helped you develop the menu at St Lawrence?
We did four pop-up dinners with an invited chef before opening St Lawrence. It really helped me to get back into that style of cooking, do research, refine recipes and mould my vision and philosophy for the project.
How does food bring people together?
Food is about tradition, history and culture. We have the responsibility to honour the people that came before us by looking at their work and those who will come after. The past and the future are connected, and so are the people and the food representing them. People are usually proud to share their knowledge and dishes that represent who they really are.
What is your most memorable moment involving food?
Nothing has topped the very special and eye-opening dining experience I had in Lyon, France at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant. My wife and I still talk about it regularly.
What is your favourite menu or dish for sharing with friends and family?
I like to keep things very simple for my friends and family. A roasted chicken is my favourite thing to eat on Sunday night. I season the chicken generously 24 hours before the dinner. On the day, I stuff it with a whole piece of black pepper Boursin cheese and roast it on a bed of smashed potatoes, garlic and root vegetables. I have never had any complaints.
Venison Tourtière de Ville
Serves 4 people
For me, Tourtière is the dish that best represents Quebec. It can be traced back to the 1600s and there is no master recipe as every family has their own version. What’s more, the style of the meat pie changes from region to region. Originally, it was made with game birds or game meat like rabbit, pheasant and moose, hence why I prefer it with venison instead of beef or pork. Tourtière still remains a staple both during Réveillon [a long dinner on Christmas eve] and in Quebecois households. It’s part of our heritage, it is close to my heart, and it’s important for me to keep it alive.
100 g onion, finely minced
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
30 g butter
125 g mushrooms, chopped finely
125 ml red wine, plus one glass for yourself
450 g ground venison neck meat or shoulder
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp Pâté Spice*
150 g back fat, ground
1 cup potato, grated
1 batch Pâte Brisée (recipe follows)
1 egg yolk
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
In a large pot over medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic in butter. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until any water from the vegetables evaporates. Add red wine, enjoy your glass, and allow the mixture to reduce completely, approximately 10 minutes.
Add the ground venison, salt and pâté spice to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring to separate the chunks of meat. Stir in the back fat and grated potato and cook for around 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, remove from the heat, and let cool.
Divide the pie dough in half and roll it out into two 1/8-inch thick disks. Line a 12-inch pie plate with half the dough, then fill with the ground-venison mixture.
Cover the meat with the other half of dough and brush the top with the egg yolk. Poke a few holes in the top crust or design your pie the way you’d like it — you’re the artist.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 450°F, then lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for about 20 minutes.
8 tsp black pepper
9 tsp ground cloves
10 tsp ground nutmeg
7 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp ground ginger
Pâte Brisée (short-crust pie dough)
2 cups all-purpose flour
360 g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
2 tsp salt
100 ml ice water
Add the flour, butter and salt to a food processor. Pulse until the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks like wet sand. Having a few little chunks of butter here and there is OK — do not over mix. Still pulsing, slowly pour the ice water into the food processor until the mixture forms into a ball —again, do not over mix. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.