When Quebec-born chef Jean-Christophe “J-C” Poirier opened his award-winning Vancouver restaurant, St. Lawrence, in
2017, his mission was to honour — and highlight the distinctions between — Québécois and French cuisine.
His debut cookbook — Where the River Narrows: Classic French and Nostalgic Québécois Recipes from St. Lawrence Restaurant — seeks to fulfill a similar mission, sharing recipes that evoke his home province’s culinary traditions and their roots in the classical Gallic restaurants of Europe.
Poirier pointedly divides the book’s 100-plus recipes into six chapters. “Quebec” and “Classic French” are self-explanatory, while “St. Lawrence” consists of dishes developed in his own kitchen, among them signature menu mainstays, including fried pork rinds with maple syrup and Montreal steak spice, as well as éclairs filled with duck liver mousse.
Poirier is an ambitious, dedicated chef, and many recipes in Where the River Narrows (the title references a part of the St. Lawrence River that tapers as it passes through Quebec City) demand a level of dedication from readers that requires overnight curing or marinating and many hours of preparation. But he also wants French cooking to be accessible to beginners, which is where the chapter “Home Cooking for Family and Friends” comes in. Here you can learn to make with relative ease, say, a bistro-correct roast chicken or chocolate mousse. And the “Chef’s Essentials” chapter ensures you can knock out an aïoli or a scratch puff pastry as if you had grown up at the hem of a gastronomically gifted Mère Lyonnaise.
Bonus points for Brit Gill’s photographs, which are aspirational without being intimidating, and for Poirier’s having the good sense to begin proceedings emphasizing the importance of “elementals,” such as good butter and the right cooking oils — a foundational instruction that, in an ideal world, all cookbooks would impress upon their readers.
— MICHAEL WHITE