Author's poutine pilgrimage discovers the roots and varieties of Quebec's iconic dish
MONTREAL -- Mozzarella powder instead of cheese curds? Red wine sauce instead of gravy?
The answer is, "Yes. Some people serve poutine that way."
The takes on the dish are true stories from Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois' book Poutine Nation, which charts the history of Quebec's iconic dish, and takes readers on a culinary world tour highlighting the many ways chefs have interpreted the humble dish.
"It's such a simple, humble dish. I mean, you are looking at three, easily accessible ingredients, gravy, fries, the cheese part is a little bit more complicated because depending on where you are around the world, cheese curds aren't necessarily available all the time but, but people, chefs, cooks, around the world have been able to adapt and make changes, similar to what we've seen with pizza," said Charlebois.
No Italian pizza maker in his or her right mind would put pineapple on a pizza, just as no Quebecer would use parmesan cheese instead of curds.
However, these things, to some people's dismay, do happen.
Thus is the world of poutine, which has grown in popularity and can be ordered in around the world. Variations of the dish exist even in Montreal where one can find "La Sud-Ouest" poutine with guacamole, onion rings and Chipotle sauce at the perma-lineup poutine specialty restaurant La Banquise on Rachel St. or "Mexican" poutine with jalapenos, black olives, corn and sour cream at Poutineville on Ontario St.
"You're seeing a lot of different markets, adopting and adapting the dish itself, but there's no better poutine than poutine in Quebec, especially in rural Quebec," said Charlebois.
Charlebois, a Farnham, Quebec native, wrote the book as a tribute to rural Quebec and the province he was born and raised in.
The creator of the dish was Fernand Lachance (1917-2004) in 1957, who was asked by Jean-Guy Lainesse to put cheese curds on his fries.
It was his wife Germaine, however, who added the sauce.
"He was the first one to actually put on his menu the word poutine, but Fernand Lachance wasn't a big fan of gravy. He actually hated gravy," said Charlebois. "His wife actually developed a hot chicken gravy and started to serve gravy on the side with cheese curds and fries in 1962."
Charlebois feels poutine should be registered as a world heritage dish much like certain cheeses in France, and that Quebec should be proud of its gift to foodies everywhere.
"I think its contribution to culinary arts through poutine is quite amazing," said the author.
The book is currently only available in French, as the author searches for an English publisher after the COVID-19 pandemic caused complications that led to the book's English publication falling through.
Watch an interview with the author above.