The Québec maritime Blog

Regional Flavours: Portraits of Inspired and Inspiring Artisans

Regional Flavours: Portraits of Inspired and Inspiring Artisans

From the four corners of Eastern Québec, chefs and food artisans invite you on a culinary journey where every flavour reflects the rich and unique bounty found in their region. To better appreciate their passion and expertise, we’ve invited them to share their thoughts with you.

Antoine Nicolas, Un Océan de Saveurs

A Breton by birth and a biologist by training, Antoine Nicolas harvests, processes and markets seaweed from Gaspésie via his company Un Océan de Saveurs.

1. How do your products reflect the unique identity of your region?

Gaspésie is renowned for its marine products, and seaweed is one of them. In fact, there’s as much variety in seaweed as there is in fish, crustaceans and mollusks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence! At Océan de Saveurs, we pick these sea vegetables, which are certified organic. We’re also a certified sustainable fishing and environmentally friendly company at the Excellence level.

2. What do you love the most about your region?

What I love about Gaspésie is the region’s nature, which is remarkably unspoiled. I also love the warmth of the people, who are very welcoming.

3. What motivates you the most about your work?

One of my goals is to show that it’s possible to be eco-friendly and economically viable. I also enjoy doing work that I’m passionate about, even though, in reality, it involves more administrative tasks than diving! I’d like to be able to spend more time in the water.

4. How does meeting people inspire your work?

Meeting people is a very enriching experience. I meet a lot of people at trade shows, as well as distributors and restaurant owners who support this project. I’m impressed by people’s warmth and commitment. It’s very flattering and rewarding to see that what we do is so appreciated.

Kim Côté, Côté Est

A hunter and fisher with a passion for his region’s terroir, Kim Côté is the chef and co-owner of the Côté Est restaurant in Kamouraska.

1. Which ingredients from your region do you prefer to cook with and why?

Along the water’s edge behind my home, I like to harvest seaweed and coastal plants with care, including sea spinach, sea asparagus and sweetgrass… My fishing trips to the Îles de la Madeleine also provide me with a supply of top-quality seafood: sea urchins, whelk, Stimpson’s surf clams, halibut, crab and lobster. Introducing people to seal meat is also something that’s important to me as a committed chef. Other rare and little-known agricultural products can be found on my menu: suckling goat, farm-raised guinea fowl, farmed boar and more. Foraging in the forest is another activity I enjoy. Forest mushrooms, wild plants and fruit, and northern spices can be found on the menu year-round. For me, cooking is a way of life and a way of proclaiming my appreciation for this bountiful natural world.

2. What do you love the most about your region?

The quality of our air, water and land… The variety and quality of the region’s products, from sea to forest. The region’s culinary history (e.g. salted herbs, damson plums, eel and sturgeon fishing, etc.).

3. What motivates you the most about your work?

Making a difference and contributing to Québec’s culinary identity. Working with fresh, unique and authentic ingredients. Sharing my knowledge with current and future generations. Creating healthy and meaningful connections.

4. How does meeting people inspire your work?

Sharing one’s expertise is an essential part of being a chef, and it’s at the heart of my approach. Cooking is all about transmitting emotions and telling a story. By transforming ingredients, I contribute to our culinary identity and express the creativity that drives me. I feel like I’m making people happy, and that makes me happy!

Sandra Blais, Purmer sea farm

Sandra Blais is the owner of the Purmer sea farm, which grows scallops, mussels and edible seaweed as well as offering interpretive activities about their practices on Grosse Boule Island, in the Sept Îles Archipelago.

1. What motivates you the most about your work?

What really motivates me is introducing visitors to aquaculture products. I like to show them that if they want to eat fresh, quality seafood, they can do so in Côte-Nord!

2. What do you love the most about your region?

Sept-Îles is one of the sunniest cities in Canada. I love the sun, and it’s also good for our aquaculture products! The people of Sept-Îles are very welcoming. It’s a beautiful area.

3. What are the main challenges you face on a daily basis?

The biggest challenge remains global warming, which means that the harvesting season is not the same length every year.

4. How does meeting people inspire your work?

Meeting the people who come to the island and to our interpretation centre is always great. They tell us they learned new things during their visit. For example, when we explain to visitors that scallops take from 5 to 7 years to grow, and mussels take up to 3 years, they always look surprised!

Ben à Ben, Le Fumoir d’Antan
Îles de la Madeleine

At the helm of the Le Fumoir d’Antan smokehouse and economuseum in Havre-aux-Maisons, in the Îles de la Madeleine, Benoit Arseneau (better known as Ben à Ben) smokes herring using traditional techniques handed down from his grandfather.

1. How do your products reflect the unique identity of your region?

Smoking herring is part of our region’s culinary identity and history. It’s something that’s been produced for a hundred years and has always been part of the cultural life of the Islands. If I go back a bit in history, we’re now at the fourth generation of master smokers. We’ve taken over an industry that once disappeared because herring had been overfished. The smokehouses here were built in 1942, operated by my grandfather and then by my father, who had to close them in the 1970s because of the moratorium. We relaunched the business in 1996, only to experience a second moratorium in 2003. We had to call upon a number of strategies to keep on making smoked herring, but today we’re still at it!

2. What do you love the most about your region?

The love of our region is everything. It’s about the beauty of the land, the tranquility of the region. It’s about the food, the freshness of the products available here. Everywhere you look, the sea is no more than a few miles away.

3. What motivates you the most about your work?

In 1976, I saw my father crying at the kitchen table because he had to close the smokehouses since the herring had disappeared. That triggered something in me. Something had to be done. We had to try to keep this tradition and its history alive. My brothers and I started working on this, and the herring came back in small quantities at the same time. This motivated us to get the smokehouses up and running again, and my father was able to pass on his knowledge to us. Today, Le Fumoir d’Antan is also an economuseum where you can learn about the history of the smokehouses on the Islands. We also smoke other products, including mackerel, salmon and scallops.

4. How does meeting people inspire your work?

I feel that people need to know where we’re coming from. Today, things move very fast. And when people come here, I think they feel a sense of calm. I don’t know if it’s the smoke that does it! We’re sharing our story. I’m not a historian, but I do feel that our history is worth preserving. Whether it’s me giving the tour or one of our employees, people are eager to hear this story.

From Gaspésie and Bas-Saint-Laurent to Côte-Nord and the Îles de la Madeleine, these four ambassadors of local flavours from the land and sea have an infectious passion, as do many other food producers and artisans in these regions. Be sure to visit them in person during your next trip to Eastern Québec!

Author Nathalie Katinakis

A foodie traveller based in the Montréal region, Nathalie Katinakis regularly writes about her adventures in North America and Europe on her blog, Une Porte Sur Deux Continents. A fan of slow travel, she loves discovering new spots to recommend to others and revisiting old favourites on both sides of the Atlantic. The maritime regions of Québec are high on her list: she never tires of visiting them to admire their beauty!

Blog: (in French only)

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