Friday, June 10, 2016
“It was a week of eating,” laughed Mark Flanagan, the Executive Chef of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, when asked how he would sum up his first-time stay in Québec City.
Don’t readjust your font size, you read correctly. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s head chef visited Québec City in late January 2016 to participate in the YWCA’s Rebuilding Hope fundraising campaign. Alongside the Québec City Convention Centre’s chef, Gérard Michel, he created and cooked a royal dinner for 200 guests.
Chefs to heads of state
Mr. Flanagan is only one of 25 chefs in the world who are members of the elite Club des Chefs des Chefs, all of whom are current chefs to heads of state. As an exclusive gastronomic society, its mission is to promote major culinary traditions and protect the origins of each country’s cuisine.
Mr. Flanagan has played a vital role in encouraging the Club des Chefs des Chefs to participate in charities. “I’ve been involved with the Club des Chefs des Chefs for a number of years and believe it is great to use this vehicle for the good of local communities. The YWCA is a phenomenal organization and it was my pleasure to do something for them.”
Before the evening took place, Mr. Flanagan got to meet and hold a short cookery demo in the Québec City Convention Centre’s kitchens with four women who were recently supported by the YWCA. “It was fabulous to see the difference the organization has made in these people’s lives,” enthused Mr. Flanagan.
The women even got to assist the chefs in preparing for the night’s feast, which was also held at the Québec City Convention Centre. During the soirée, entitled Perles et Gants Blancs (Peals and White Gloves), the chefs Mark Flanagan and Gérard Michel concocted an impressively researched four-course meal that event goers later described as ‘simply outstanding.’
On the menu
“We really wanted to tie the dishes we do here in the royal household with local products from Canada,” explained Mr. Flanagan. The first course? “Chilled lobster cocktail, which is a known favourite of Queen Mom. It was a good starter dish that represented both nations very well.” The next course was game consommé.
“There is a wealth of game in Quebec. This is typical of how Her Majesty welcomes her guests to her estates—many of which eat off the land.” As many people who follow the royal family know, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II often participated in wild game hunting with her dogs. The main course was venison loin garnished with skirlie, a traditional Scottish oatmeal stuffing.
“Not only did the dish pay tribute to the Queen’s beautiful Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she serves her guests red deer in the summer, but also to the deer that roams wild in Québec,” said Mr. Flanagan. And for the pièce de resistance (obviously dessert!), Mr. Flanagan and Chef Gérard whipped up a white chocolate and rhubarb parfait—a signature dish in the UK using a highly popular seasonal vegetable.
Discovering Québec’s gastronomy
While taking part in the fundraising event was at the heart of his visit, Mr. Flanagan nevertheless had time to do a whirlwind tour of Québec City—exploring both the region’s sites and culinary fare. “It was my first time in Québec City and I had an amazing visit. We did absolutely loads,”
Mr. Flanagan reminisced. Although it was in the middle of winter and just before the Québec City Winter Carnival, the “temperature was very kind to me, hovering about at -2 degrees Celsius. We were lucky!” Mr. Flanagan’s schedule was packed, with an historical tour of Old Québec with guide David Mendel and visits to the National Assembly and ice hotel. Mr. Flanagan and his spouse even went ice fishing. “I found it somewhat disconcerting to discover that my wife is a better angler than I am,” chuckled Mr. Flanagan.
Restaurants to discover
We know. We know. Everyone wants to know what the prestigious, yet humble, chef ate during his stay in Québec City. He and his wife, along with Québec City delegates, dined at Bello Ristorante, Le Parlementaire at the National Assembly of Québec, Légende, Charbon Steakhouse, Nina Pizzeria and Anciens Canadiens.
“All of the food was simply lovely. I had never tried walleye fish, particularly caught in the dead of winter. It was amazing,” said Mr. Flanagan. And yes, he did relish on a couple of versions of poutine, Québec’s famed meat pie, and an exclusive luncheon at the National Assembly, which, according to Mr. Flanagan, featured “well-executed fare.”
What did Mr. Flanagan find unique about Québec City’s culinary scene? “Québec has a strong identity to its food. I noticed that chefs and other restaurant works were proud to associate what they served as food with their culture. Everyone was so hospitable and keen to show us their know-how and dedication to serving locally grown, raised and caught food,” Mr. Flanagan said.
“Québec has very high-quality food that chefs meld together and play on juxtapositions between the city’s cultural traditions and ultra-modern cooking techniques.”Mr. Flanagan hopes to return to Québec City in the near future. “I still have so much to discover: Île d’Orléans, the Québec Winter Carnival and many more local agricultural businesses. Part of the fun when you travel is to try local cuisines and get back in touch with the professionals that initiate the entire food chain,” he added.His lasting impression of Québec City? “I am very jealous of your surroundings—the different terrains, the changes in seasons and weather, and your landscapes’ natural beauty. You are truly blessed with variety!”