Haute cuisine is being redefined at Panache, the signature restaurant at Auberge Saint-Antoine museum-hotel in Quebec City. Chef Louis Pacquelin’s philosophy is simple sophistication.
By Julie Gedeon
“We never have more than three or, at most, four elements on a plate,” explains Pacquelin, who learned from Alain Ducasse and other renowned chefs in Paris before arriving in Canada three years ago. “The goal is always to show our culinary mastery of each of those elements.”
Take turnips. “They’re not usually a vegetable that gets people excited,” he says. “But our Québec turnips, curry and goat cheese plate is very popular because we’ve worked at bringing out all of the flavours of each of those elements in a combination that excites the palate.”
Pacquelin and his team spend a lot of time experimenting with each menu idea to ensure that it tickles all four elements of our tasting abilities – sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness – in a flavourful balance.
“We start by focusing on one of the freshest elements of the season and find ways to complement them,” Pacquelin explains. “We may interrupt the roundness of a meat flavour with a pickled vegetable, for example, or cut the natural saltiness of fresh seafood with a sweet aspect.”
More often than not, Pacquelin and his team start with a vegetable to create a new plate. “We look not only at the freshness but the different colours, textures and ways of cooking or preserving a vegetable to bring out its best,” Pacquelin says. “We’re very married to Québec’s terroir and want to highlight the best of what the soil and growers in this province have to offer.”
In fact, Panache obtains 90 per cent of its produce locally on a year-round basis. Most of the vegetables – approximately 200 varieties – are grown in the large organic garden owned by the hotel’s proprietors on Île d’Orléans. The rest all comes from local producers, including a farm that operates winter greenhouses.
“The Chef’s Surprise is nearly always a vegetable dish,” Pacquelin adds. “It always depends on how the morning’s delivery of produce inspires me.” He might add, for example, some Gaspé mustard seed to young asparagus.
Pacquelin also takes pride in the way his kitchen updates classic Québec dishes. When Québec lobster is in season, for instance, his kitchen will prepare cocottes (traditional pot pies with a pastry overlay) so it contains the shellfish along with local mussels and a splash of Québec whisky.
Panache’s culinary cues
- Keep things simple. “There’s a tendency to add a little bit of this and that nowadays that ends up with an entrée or appetizer never tasting the same twice,” Pacquelin warns. “Repeat customers don’t appreciate a lack of consistency.”
- Don’t make vegetables a lazy afterthought. There’s nothing more disappointing that a few steamed carrots or parsnips blandly sitting on an expensive plate.
- Revisit classic dishes but always introduce a surprise element to awaken the palate. Pacquelin may prepare fresh calamari in the traditional Spanish way with a bit of margarine, but he adds bergamot for slight citrus flair and floral notes.