Black & White

I’ve been working in a professional kitchen for just over a year now. In my time as a pro-cook I’ve been in and out of 4 kitchens; not because I’ve jumped from one job to another but because of stages (working in another kitchen on a volunteer basis to experience their food and daily operations).

One thing I’ve learned to love about the kitchen world is that it’s very Black and White world. You either have the skills to perform or you don’t. Cooking, like so many other crafts is a brutally honest reflection of one’s own abilities. Some days you’ll crumble, some you’ll be at your best and others you’ll just struggle through. Each day is a new challenge and a new opportunity to proves oneself and one’s worth.

In short, cooking is cooking, you can do it or you can’t. I don’t care if you’re Black, Yellow, or White, if you’re Homosexual or Straight, Christian, Buddhist or Muslim. In the end all that matters is the food and if you can cut as a cook or not; skills are honest it doesn’t matter the type of person they come from; everyone is equal, things like race, orientation and creed don’t matter.



Excess at its finest

Au Pied de, a temple to all things fatty and artery hardening, a cardiac surgeon’s worst nightmare. It draws foodies and gluttons from afar, after all, it has drawn me from my home base in Toronto. There’s a lineup of anxious diners waiting to be seated and the restaurant is packed so full there’s barely elbowroom; surely a good sign of the meal to come.

Chef and Owner of PDC, Martin Picard, is a lover of decadent foods and excess. He has a special penchant for Foie Gras, the engorged fatty liver of a duck. This wonderfully delicious fare is likely one of the deadliest and fattiest foods ever grace the face of this planet. However, Foie Gras is not without criticism.

In the past years Foie and its relatively niche industry has been under attack for its believed cruelties to ducks and geese. Restaurants have removed it from their menu, nations have banned production and even the great food city of Chicago was once forbidden from selling this delectable treat.

Fortunately for me, both Martin and Quebec have no qualms about Foie. PDC is a haven for Foie Gras feigns and their menu is plagued with it. This is exactly what I came to the restaurant for, to overindulge on Foie Gras.

Upon entry, there is nothing visually stunning about the restaurant. An open kitchen with a bar flanks the left side of the restaurant and a mirrored wall on the right only makes the space look slightly larger. The tables and their chairs are simple wood and the dinnerware is well used and scuffed. The restaurant’s staff, both servers and cooks, are wearing t-shirts, denim and runners. There’s every bit a sense here that PDC could be a pre-packaged utility restaurant.

In the restaurant, there’s a sense of chaos in the air. Servers squeeze between narrow tables, dodge standing customers and even push past their own comrades. Everything appears rushed and forced; the ballet of fine dinning has definitely left this restaurant. But perhaps it’s a controlled chaos to them. There’s a buzz in the restaurant and it’s quite loud due to the capacity crowd, open kitchen and jousting servers.

Some believe that this is Martin giving the finger to the world of fine dinning. He is unequivocally proving that good food can come without the packaged pompousness, pretention, primping or polishing.

Before I can even begin to describe the actual food we ordered I have to be clear on the disappointment of the bread. Served in a stainless steel mixing bowl, thick cuts of bread were complemented with a matching miniature stainless steel ramekin of butter. The bread was fine, but the butter, something so simple and neigh impossible to get wrong, was frozen solid. I understand that I was going to consume a frightening amount of calories and fat but I didn’t need the exercise trying to wrestle this non-threatening dairy product. Struggling to scrape off shavings of butter and nearly bending my only knife I admit defeat. Thwarted, I resort to eating the bread without it. I’m not impressed but I’m still hopeful that things would soon change.

The meal begins with the foie gras cromesquis ($4). The cromesquis is a cube of Foie Gras Terrine breaded and deep fried. It eats like savory Truffle, filled with a warm liquid Foie Gras center that explodes in your mouth. It’s an ethereal experience and a near perfect amuse bouche. The dish is only tarnished by the fact that it was served on a very obviously chipped plate.

A very generous helping of foie gras terrine came next ($25). Rich, creamy and unctuous it was spread onto thick cut toast points and accompanied with apricot jelly. Nothing fabulous about the toast or jelly, the terrine was clearly the star. Spreading it like butter, I dreamt of substituting other foods in lieu of the toast. Scones, bagels, and muffins oh my! How life could be improved, and vastly shortened, with a little daily dose of foie gras.

Following the terrine came our seafood course, the Tempura Soft Shell Crab ($20). Oh goody! A deep fried seafood palette cleaner to break up this expedition of Foie. Although typical, the crab is excellently paired with a strongly Vietnamese influenced vinegar dipping sauce.

PDC’s iconic Duck in a Can ($36), a dish born of either genius or sheer madness, is something to behold. Margret duck breast, Foie Gras, and Sauce cooked in a can and served table side. Looking at the can I can only think of L’Tour d’Argent’s Pressed Duck meeting Dr. Frankenstein in the guise of Martin Picard. While a fascinating and ingenious idea, it sorely lacks in execution. The duck is overcooked, dry and tough and the normally luxurious fatty skin was entirely inedible. The redeeming qualities of this dish come from the wonderfully rich sauce, mashed potatoes and toast. Although, only likely due to copious amounts of butter, duck fat and foie gras.

The foie gras poutine ($23) arrives and we hope it’ll be a pleasant recovery from the canned duck. French fries cooked in duck fat, cheese curds, foie gras poutine sauce and a slice of seared foie gras. Obscene is the only word that comes to mind. I’m aware that I could find this nearly exact dish closer to home (Bier Market, Café du Lac) but there’s something more justified about eating it here in Montreal, at PDC. The only fault I find is over seasoning, easily remedied by consuming more wine. The foie gras poutine sauce, like almost everything else, is treacherously rich; we mop up any left over with some bread.

Our server returns to our table, looking impressed that we’ve consumed everything, he grins and offers us dessert. Hunched over, breathing heavily and looking up to him I can only think, “He’s trying to kill me and I can’t run.” I concede to the meal and as politely as possible I say for no more. Our server smiles, pleased by the idea of our gluttony and suffering and retreats back into the crowded room.

I glance around the room and see other diners joining me in my gluttonous state. Many have a glazed look in their eyes. Others are still slowly chewing away not wanting to be trounced by a plate of food. To my right, an even sadder scene occurs, I see fear in a man’s eyes as he realizes he’s only consumed half his order of the PDC Pork Chop; a chop so large it would give Fred Flintstone a run for his money. In my field of view, the common factor among everyone is how pleased and tranquil everyone appears.

This is what those who come to dine at Au Pied de Cochon come for, the sheer madness of excess and gluttony. PDC should be on the list of every foodie’s list of places to eat. The service and ambiance isn’t noteworthy but the food and sheer madness of it is enough to warrant a trip. Luckily for us Toronto-ians, Montreal is only a short drive away.

Au Pied de Cochon

Address: 536 Duluth St. Montreal QC – 514 281 1114
Three Stars out of Four
Chef: Martin Picard
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 5:00 PM to Midnight
Reservations: Yes, absolutely necessary but they do accept walk-ins
Wheelchair Access: Accessible
Washrooms: Clean and bright with deep sinks. Outfitted with a television to watch the kitchen
Price Range: Dinner for two with wine $150

This was a review I wrote for a school assignment.



Technique, Talent and Luck

A group of my close friends are artists; I've been friends with them for years and we will likely remain friends for the years to come. Even though they're artists and practitioners of a different craft we still have much in common to talk about.

My friend German, who's devotion to art rivals my devotion to cooking, is one who I sometimes have the best conversations with. We often talk about technique, skill, the learning process and
more. Even thought our tools, mediums, and skill sets are vastly different we can find common ground and draw many parallels. We have a great respect and interest and for each others work.

Recently, via Twitter, German expressed his thoughts on Technique and Talent. I don't think I could adequately express the ideas in a more succinct, fundamental and fluid form.

Adequate technique provides the most opportunity for honest self-expression, not talent.

You either have talent or you don't but any one can create great works with a solid technical foundation.

Talent depends on luck for success. With the proper technique one makes their own luck

I love technique. I love talking about technique. I love discussing it with other individuals, that have the same fundamental respect for the techniques of their craft as I do for mine. I can't stress the importance of learning the fundamentals enough.



Litmus Test

Some argue that the litmus test of a good cook is to make a Classical French Omelette. The ingredients are simple and so are the results. However, moving from Point A to Point B is more complex than it lends itself to be.

The process of cooking a Classical Omelette displays competence in timing, heat control, knowledge of ingredients, and fundamental technique. All of those things from just three eggs, butter, salt and pepper and a non-stick pan. The entire cooking process takes less than a minute, 30 seconds more or less can spell disaster for both cook and omelette.

I'm not a huge fan of Omelettes but I love the process. I love technique. Anyone who knows me will hear me say that I love the fundamentals. What can be more fundamental than an egg (philosophically and practically)?

So how do I do? Am I competent?

April 2008

April 2009

I'm pretty competent it seems. And I'm getting better.



Last Meal

If I were to perish tomorrow by rapture, natural disaster, extreme violence, stupidity or otherwise this is what I would want my last meal to be. There would be no lobster, foie gras, truffle, caviar, wine or cream. Only this...

Chicken braised in Dark Soy Sauce and Ginger

...with a bowl of Jasmine Rice and a pot of Jasmine Tea to end the meal.

I never ate a lot as a kid, in fact, I ate so little that my family worried about me. I'd struggle to finish a cup of rice. And then my Grandmother would cook that dish for me. A simple dish using only three major ingredients and eaten only with white rice. I ate plates of the stuff.

This food was prepared by Grandmother who stood no taller than 5 feet, weighed no more than 100 lbs and had a pacemaker helping her loving heart.It's probably been 15 years since the last and final time she cooked this for me.

I can make it but it never tastes the same and it never will.


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