Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest Post: Meet a Gold Medal Plates Chef: Chef Charles Part of Les Fougères

The following post continues a series of "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef" interviews you will see on the Fridays leading up to the Gold Medal Plates Event in Ottawa. It's from one of Ottawa's most amazing food bloggers – Shari of Whisk: a food blog.

For this installment of "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef", we get to know Chef Charles Part from Les Fougères (783 route 105, Chelsea, QC).

Les Fougères, tucked into the tree-lined hills of Chelsea, used to be a rural gas station but was lovingly converted to a restaurant with old-world charm. Its creaky stairs and old-fashioned straight-back chairs with tied floral chair pads give it a casual air, but the white tablecloths and cloth napkins turn the easygoing ambience into something a little more special.

Chef Part comes from England where there was a lot of pressure to get into the family business, but he had a passion for food and wanted to get away from England altogether. It would seem he made the right career choice. He won Gold Medal Plates in Ottawa in 2008, was a judge in 2009, and has won several Wine Spectator awards through the years.

Chef Part works with his wife, Jennifer Warren-Part, and together they are dedicated to serving the best regional food they can. And they do expertly.

Chef Charles Part, Les Fougères

What's your philosophy when it comes to food and your restaurant?

I think the philosophy of our food is to try to keep as much flavour, good presentation and as much honest flavours as we can that people are comfortable with. And therefore, we try to source it locally if it's available at that time of year. Being where we are, it's difficult all year round to get what you want.

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for the dishes you create?

Inspiration comes from visiting places, different cultures and seeing what's in the market locally as well.

What's your favorite dish from your menu and why?

We change our menu every quarter. We have a table d'hôte that changes regularly too. This menu changed mid-September. One of the dishes I like is the one we won the Gold Metal Plates for in 2008, "The Mouth of the Saint Lawrence" that's salt cod ravioli. Of course we always have our confit of duck, which is one of our signature items.

What's the ingredient you can't live without? (other than basics)

Garlic. I can't live without garlic. And duck.

Is there anything you won't eat?

Tapioca pudding I'm not big on. And artichokes.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Anything sweet. Milk chocolate. And pork fat, duck fat, anything fat. Anything that's bad for you.

What was your most memorable meal and why?

One of the most memorable was in Italy. It was in Sicily in a small fishing village. There was this amazing chef who kept bringing out wonderful things. Nothing specific. Just the atmosphere and the taste sensations. He served a carpaccio of shrimp that you could see through. And citrus oils. He did something with tomatoes too. It was all pretty tasty.

Italy has the best food. I did an apprenticeship in Paris and a lot of the classical food we start out with is from France. I think they take their food too seriously, though.

What would your last meal be?

I love truffles. When we were in Italy, I had potato soup with a lot of truffles in it. It had this pastry topping on it. So when it came out, and I broke the top of the pastry, this truffle ether came out. That was good.

If you could travel to just one place in the world for food, where would you go and why?

I'd be really interested in going to Japan because I've never been that far East before. A lot of the sushi and Japanese restaurants in North America are probably nothing compared to the wonderful things you'd experience there.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

Having a good brunch and watching a football [soccer] game on TV. Undisturbed.

For those who are newly attending the Gold Medal Plates event, how would you describe it? What can one expect?

There's a certain amount of stress to make sure all the plates are done on time. It all depends on how competitive you are, how stressed out you'll be. We're all committed to doing the best we can. And ultimately, we raise money for the athletes.

You're allowed into the NAC kitchen ahead of time, if you want to. We have to be prepared to make 500 plates, but we haven't been told the final number yet. The plate we prepare is like a small appetizer that you try and get as many textures on the plate as you can. It's only three or four bites so everything has to be quizzically interesting. It's a neat challenge.

For the general public, there's ten booths. You circulate and go around picking up the different plates. Every booth has a winery attached to it. Part of the judging is the matching of the wine with the dish.

For the judging, they're usually in a separate room and they bring in one plate and they taste the wine with the food and make their notes. I was a judge last year, which was interesting.

How would you prepare for a competition like Gold Medal Plates?

Emotionally, spiritually, mentally? Well, you wait for divine intervention and hope a thunderbolt will come down and say "YES"! I'm still fine-tuning my dish.

We've done it every year that it's been around. It seems to be taken more seriously now. And there are some excellent chefs in the city who don't even bother with it. They don't like that sort of scene.

But for us, it gets the staff interested in doing something different. We're allowed to take up to seven people so it gets them out.

[After we finished this set of questions that we've been asking all the chefs who have been invited to Gold Medal Plates, Chef Part showed me around his store and the property and talked a bit more about his restaurant.]

For the cookbook, A Year at Les Fougères, we had a photographer who was local. In the store, we were doing cooking classes, so we'd written a lot of the recipes already for the cooking classes so a certain amount of the work had already been done.

We're doing a big expansion in the back. Our kitchen in the store got so small because we got so busy in there. We're building a professional kitchen so we can actually start to produce and distribute food across Quebec to natural food markets.

There will be a production kitchen as well as a cooling room where all the packaging goes on. There will be a walk-in freezer. We'll have a private room for functions upstairs, which will have a nice view of the garden where we have edible flowers, herbs and vegetables. It will be a place where people can come and have wine tastings or private functions. When it's quiet in the restaurant, then we're busy there.

"You can't stand still. You've only got one life." – Chef Charles Part

Clockwise from top left:
“The Mouth of the St. Lawrence” ($18.50)
Pressed Terrine of Québec Foie Gras ($19.00)
Confit of Quebec Duck ($32.00)
Lightly Pan Seared Wild Baffin Island Arctic Char ($34.00)
Maple Syrup Pie ($10.00)

After talking with the chef, I sat down to enjoy a meal. And it was one of my most memorable.

“The Mouth of the St. Lawrence”, which is the dish that won Chef Part the Gold Medal Plate in 2008, filled my mouth with soft pasta wrapped around a brandade, which is a tasty marriage of puréed salt-cured cod, olive oil, potato, and garlic among other ingredients. Alongside sat shrimp, mussels and scallops drizzled with mussel fumet. Here's how James Chatto described it in 2008:

The gold medal went to Charles Part of Restaurant Les Fougères in the Gatineau River Valley. Part called his creation “The Mouth of the St. Lawrence” a region that inspired the dish. At its heart was a fragile raviolo filled with a rich brandade of Clark’s Harbour salt cod. A fresh Grand Banks scallop perched on top of it, its sweetness earthed by a hint of white truffle oil. Matane shrimps, potted in the British way in butter, mace and nutmeg, retained their delicate texture. Lennox Island mussels were plump and soft, their flavour enhanced by an intense fumet reduced from their own mussel liquor. It was a subtle collation of marine tastes and soft textures beautifully matched with another Prince Edward County wine, Huff Estate 2007 Off-Dry Riesling – giving the County a sweep of the wine awards! – James Chatto

Next was foie gras terrine, which is on my list of what I would eat for my last meal. And Chef Part's pairing of Cabernet Franc ice syrup and toasted hazelnuts take this already richly fulfilling dish up a notch, pleasing my tastebuds with textures of crunch and velvet and tastes of sweetness and earthiness.

For my main, I ordered the Confit of Quebec duck. I found out later that this was the dish he presented at the National competition of Gold Medal Plates for 2008 in Banff, Alberta. Here is how James Chatto described it:

Chef Charles Part presented a dish he described as the dish he would choose for his last meal – 'it means that much to me…' Its principal was a generous helping of confited Quebec moulard duck, rich, tender and moist with a skin that was crisp where it needed to be and fatty elsewhere. The flavour was wonderful, the sweetness enhanced by threads of orange zest. It sat on a thick disc of cooked pear with a spoonful of soft, tangy chevre cheese at its hollowed heart. Beneath that was an Agria potato rösti. The dish was finished with some forthright spinach and a delicious sauce of New Brunswick partridgeberries zapped with vinegar to become a classy ketchup. This dish was honest-to-goodness bistro taken to the bistro extreme. Some judges loved its democratic lack of fuss; others found it too plain. Chef Part paired it with a Prince Edward County wine, Huff Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, made with Niagara grapes. – James Chatto

The Arctic char was fresh and flaky with nuances of Asian flavors from the bonito dashi broth, sesame and soba noodles.

For dessert, the maple syrup pie was nutty and not overly sweet. It was perfect with Chantilly cream and a strong cup of coffee.

Generously, Chef Part and his wife have included recipes for their award-winning dishes in their cookbook, which you can order from their website or purchase in their store.

Good luck, Chef Part! It was a pleasure to meet you.

Facebook Page: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

To purchase tickets for Gold Medal Plates, contact Sue Holloway (contact information below) or click here.


Les Fougères
783 route 105
Chelsea, QC
(819) 827-8942

Gold Medal Plates Ottawa
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 6:00 pm
National Arts Centre
53 Elgin Street

Sue Holloway
818 Nesbitt Place
(613) 274-3107 phone
(613) 274-0851 fax
Email Sue Holloway

Restaurant Les Fougères on Urbanspoon


Alina @ Duty Free Foodie said...

That meal looks amazing!

I love hearing that Chef Charles loves milk chocolate as well. I love milk chocolate and I often feel that it does not rank as highly as dark chocolate among foodies :)

Stephen said...

Thanks for sharing this awesome article about Chef Charles. That's really awesome.

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