A Year at Les Fougères
I lost touch with Charles Part and his wife, Jennifer Warren-Part, when they sold Loons, their restaurant on the beachy end of Queen Street East.They had opened it in 1986 and left, I think, in 1992, moving to Quebec and opening a place called Les Fougères in a rural area about 15 minutes outside Ottawa-Gatineau. By all accounts it is a delightful restaurant with an equally valuable little store where they sell the foods they prepare and give cooking lessons during the quieter months of the year. Gold Medal Plates gave me the chance to shake hands with the Parts once again after all these years by inviting them to compete at the Ottawa-Gatineau event (where they have always performed admirably well), but it isn’t the same as having dinner at Loons used to be. I was just starting out as a reviewer back then and was very taken with the restaurant and their cooking. So it was a lovely surprise when they sent me a copy of their book, A Year at Les Fougères. It’s published by Chelsea Books (out of Chelsea, Quebec—the same village ou se trouve Les Fougères) and is available in some good Ottawa bookstores, but the easiest way for most of us to get a copy is to buy it online through the restaurant’s Web site for $34.95.
Why is this book such a standout against the background of the dozens of other cookbooks I look at each year? One reason is its shape‹a month-by-month almanac—which emphasizes the attractive, logical, seasonal pattern of planting, harvesting, preserving, enhancing and cooking. Also, this is one of those books where almost every recipe sounds like something one would very much want to cook and serve to friends. In just the first pages, for example, there is Seville marmalade, a ragoût of hare and a brandade of salt cod. By sheer coincidence, I have been looking for a good brandade recipe for weeks and now, bingo!, it jumped off the page at me, alongside a second recipe for making a brandade soup ameliorated with white truffle oil.
Another treat about the book are the photographs by Andrew van Beek (dozens and dozens of them). But what appeals to me most, I think, is the quality of the writing, both in the actual recipes (amazingly lucid and doable for a restaurant cookbook) and in the descriptive introductions to each month. The authors evoke life at Les Fougères with lovely, elegant prose and many a vivid, unexpected turn of phrase. Their words about the deep cold of January made me long to get in the car and head north to experience a real Canadian winter again (only we don’t have a car any more—part of our effort to live a more viridescent existence). Talking of which, the gastronomy practiced by Part and Warren-Part is founded on the most righteous principles of slow, local, seasonal cuisine, so reading their book is balm to the conscience as well as a goose to the appetite. It deserves a much bigger audience than their existing fans and clientele and I hope some of the big bookstores agree with me.