One major bonus about my François des bois being at Jean Talon market (besides him being out of my hair) is that he comes home every day with something great to eat. He’s always been good at that, but now it’s not just greens. He is so conveniently close to a dazzling array of fresh ingredients, some sources that we know and love already, among others that he is discovering by the day.
I would never think to buy my lobster cooked, but François convinced me that this guy at Atkins really knows how to cook lobster and he cooks hundreds a day (big ones!), in highly seasoned water in the Gaspé style (with sea salt and seaweed) – and he was right, it’s pretty damn good. Visit Les Delices de la Mer on the south side of the specialty aisle. The lobster kiosk is across from the main store, which is also a good source of fish, scallops and shrimp in season. They aren’t just purveyors of fish, they are actual fishermen and family here..
Knowing how much I love spices, François brought me some nutmeg from Philippe de Vienne’s shop (which has been a gaga place of mine since it opened years ago). I carried my jar of 'noix du paradis' around for days, taking a sniff every now and again, even sleeping next to it. The nutmeg was still in its shell so it shook like a rattle and smelled like malted chocolate, vanilla and spice. When I cracked one open, the most fragrant little nutmeg ball was revealed, which grating became a pure joy - I’ve never tasted nutmeg like this. I finally understood the subtleties in difference between mace and nutmeg, having the juxtaposition in my face. I honestly could not stop grating or smelling it or talking about how much I loved it. You could tell François was pleased with his buy; he may as well as given me a diamond ring.
Philippe de Vienne’s Olive et Épices is THE store for olive oils, spices and beautiful kitchen knickknacks/gifts. His other store, La Depense a few doors down is also an interesting stop for curious minds, and a good source for specialty and ethnic dry goods. Say, gram flour or Israeli couscous..
I feel fortunate to have a steady supply of dry ham (proscuitto) from the Cochon tout rond (whose stall is right next to François’), whom I’ve already mentioned here at least once; I also love their chorizo. Their proscuitto has become a staple in our fridge, amazing as a part of a late night charcuterie/cheese platter in lieu of dinner or in a salad, pasta, or atop pizza.
François loves his veal chops, and that means regular visits to Veau de Charlevoix (Charlevoix veal), pricy but worth it. On another night, it could be organic suckling pig from Pork Meilleur; both these are in the specialty aisle.. Fermes Nord-Est close by has small production natural meats too, such as bison, beef and chicken.. François has yet to bring some home - we can’t be eating meat every night after all, but I have visited their farm, met them and know I can recommend them.
He’s also regularly coming home with a new cheese he’s discovered either from Qui Lait Cru or Fromagerie Hamel.. His latest buys were meant to impress me, and they did, but thanks to Yannick I already knew them.. There was the new Baluchon Reserve from Ste-Anne de la Pérade and the Bleu d’Elizabeth from the townships, as well as my beloved Alfred de Compton, his default addition to make sure I was pleased, I guess. There is also the Tomme de Marechal and the La Moutonnière farmer's sheep's milk cheeses who have stalls of their own in the specialty or organic aisle (Le Clos Vert, Le Soupçon de Bleu (a creamy blue), and the classic La Moutonnière bleu (which I prefer).
For the organic milk he likes, he goes to a little Produits du Terroir shop in the specialty aisle, next to the olives place. He brought me delicious fresh yogurt in a glass jar from there too that I used in a panna cotta that was so exceptionally tasty, I figured it must be the yogurt. About those olives next door - delish! Especially the goat cheese stuffed green ones.
Being the fruit lovers we are, we have our spots for fruit even off season (we lose locavore points here). Of course, I put up our rhubarb and wild berries for use at the restaurant, but I do enjoy the odd fresh berry in the morning off season, and well, François power eats fruit all the time. We get most of our seasonal fruit in the country, but in between, a few good sources at the market are key; especially at this time of year, where it’s summer just about everywhere else - it’s hard to resist the taste of a good melon, cherry or pear when it’s been so long.. François is very fussy about his fruit, and takes much care in selecting each piece (he is very good at sniffing out that perfect melon). He likes Eric Lecuyer ‘Le King’ on the north side of the second aisle for a reliable assortment of berries; in season, he has everything from blueberries to currants to ground cherries. For mangos, melons, pears and apples, he likes Trottier, that famously long established family of apple growers, and apparently they usually have good Quebec tomatoes too. They have a few locations around the market, the main one being in the main cross aisle.
At the moment, Jacques et Diane Remillard are selling potted plants, herbs and such in the third aisle, but at the height of summer, they will be in their regular space in the second aisle selling their vegetables and herbs.. They are old friends of François’ and a favourite source of harvest vegetables for us.
Then, there are the farm fresh eggs form Chez Petrin that arrive daily; they also sell honey, maple, and strangely enough (but very useful to know), the beans for cassoulet, all varieties of dry beans in fact.
Once and a while, the women in François’ life get treated to a bouquet of fresh flowers from Chez Daniel, but I like the more frequent wild ones just as much..
There is always the Marché des Saveurs for Anicet’s honey and Cuvée du Diable honey wine, which I love to cook with since L’Eau à la Bouche, or for some other Quebec product I need for a menu, be it cider or Quebec style porto.. Of course, they have much more than booze, it being THE place to shop for Quebec ingredients and gifts, to bring visiting friends, or when you just want to discover or rediscover some new Quebec product.
Perhaps François is so good at surveying the market because he’s not at his stall; I suspect that the girls (Isabelle, Marie Claude and Stéphanie) are doing the bulk of the work while he schmoozes.. You have to understand that he spent much of the nineties here as a farmer who also happened to sell some weird, wild things on the side (which is where Normand Laprise discovered him), so he knows the market, the long established businesses, the family farmers from the peddlers (as he calls the distributor/sellers who don’t know farming and get all their stuff at the Marché Centrale). As a result, he can spot the ruses, the sheisters, the places I now know I should NOT shop at..
Now that’s a real forager for you - as good at the market as in the woods.. François du Marché meets François des Bois - Lucky me.
François and all his foraging greatness aside, there is more to the market than what HE likes.. I like Birri (and so do other people I know who are serious about their food) for all their specialty veg and herbs. I remember the day a couple of years ago when I happened upon their stall (in the first aisle, center), which was spilling over with a variety of beautiful eggplants and squash laid out in their glory.. Granted it was late summer abundance, heirloom tomatoes and all, but I spent over an hour there fondling the stuff, walking off with more than I could carry, elated by the freshness and beauty of my original finds.
There’s the mainstay Capitol, one of my friend Barb’s favourite spots for meat, cheese and miscellaneous dry goods. Of course, she is dating an Italian guy, but he’s a cook and she’s a market regular.. I second that it would make a handy épicerie if you live in the area, especially if you’re into charcuterie, cheese, antipasto and pasta (who isn’t?). She also claims that the new pizza place (Venizzia) on the northwest side of the market is amazing, can’t wait to check it out.
I can’t help but mention Pain Doré; even if they can be spotty, and seem to have suffered as a brand in expansion versus the compounding competition. Everyone seems to prefer Premier Moisson or some artisanal bakery but if in the vicinity, I still gravitate towards Pain Doré for a ham sandwich or a baguette. Maybe it’s nostalgic since I once long ago ate a Parisien (ham, butter and dijon ) with great satisfaction daily. They don’t make it quite the same anymore and now the sandwiches seem to always be made in advance (?!), but the memory lasts.. Or maybe it’s just because I like their bread. I swear I do. It’s happened that I’ve been in some far off restaurant in a village in the Charlevoix or in the Laurentians and loved the bread; where do you get your bread, I ask? Every time, Pain Doré, mademoiselle.. It hasn’t happened lately, but still, I’m loyal.
And being the sucker for books that I am, I have a hard time not dipping into the cookbook store when at the market.. Anne Fortin’s store at the east entrance to the new wing reminds me of a French version of the cookbook store in TO in feel, with its small quarters stacked with a rich and wide array of titles and topics for the serious food book lover.. Digging is required, but many gems are to be found, in both official languages.. She has also opened a used-bookstore nearby, L’Occasion Gourmande (366 rue de Castelneau Est, 514-759-9143).
One last treat from the market is the TV show upstairs, Des Kiwis et des Hommes, a Radio Canada morning food/variety/talk show (that thankfully replays late night) hosted by the lovable duo, Boucar Diouff and Francis Reddy. They have a weekly host chef cooking, as well as other guests including artists, politicians, activists, interesting people all round, and for an hour and a half, they hang around the kitchen and chat about current events, sit at the table to attack a philosophical topic of the day or talk about music; they regularly tour the market and visit farmers, they clown around and stop to offer food for thought.. It’s an eclectic show that does border on cheesy at times, but definitely grows on you. I am mostly fond of it because it takes place at the market and exudes that market spirit, alive with the pulse of the people and food in all its diversity, throughout the ups, downs and intricacies of real life. They entertain and remind us of the good things in life at our fingertips in the heart of the city.
In short, I hope I've given you enough good reasons to visit the market, Jean Talon in particular, today!