[Série] In the kitchen of… Guillaume Cantin

They are chefs, market gardeners, fishermen, hunters, photographers or winegrowers. They are all immensely curious about the flavors of Quebec. The duty went to meet them to learn about their favourites, their recent discoveries, and snoop a bit in their cooking and their memories! Today, an incursion into the gourmet universe of chef and entrepreneur Guillaume Cantin. Interview by Sophie Grenier-Héroux.

Five years ago, you co-founded La Transformerie, a non-profit company whose mission is to promote food security and sovereignty, as well as the reduction of the environmental footprint. When you look at the progress made, what is your assessment?

It’s passing quickly ! People know us mainly thanks to our first project, Les Rescapés, where we transform unsold fruits and vegetables in grocery stores into spreads, marmalades and sauces. We currently use a ton of food per week. Our goal is not to become dependent on unsold food, but to make food waste obsolete and, eventually, no longer exist. There have been reflections in recent years on the role of the organization and how to have the most impact. The project that speaks to us a lot is to set up a living laboratory in the circular economy and on the resilience of the food system. It is a very present structure in Europe. We want to work with entrepreneurs, understand their situation, question ourselves, see what works elsewhere. Then, instead of developing 500 piecemeal solutions in each sector, we can develop 5, 10 or 15 solutions that will have more impact from a systemic perspective.

You were born in Lévis. As a child, what was your culinary world like?

I was very curious, I liked to watch my mother cook. When I was 15, I started as a dishwasher at Délice Resto. The chef said to me: “You won’t stay in the dishwasher for long” and took me up to the kitchen. That was the starting point.

What dish or flavor changed your life?

A pancake with sautéed apples, cheddar and maple syrup. I was 15 years old. The fact of being able to do simple and really good things with three or four ingredients, the mixture of flavours: that turned me on.

What is your Proust madeleine?

My mother’s salmon vol-au-vent. When there is that smell, it reminds me of my childhood, my family and my mother’s love.

When did you become aware of food waste?

My grandmother cooked everything from A to Z. In my family, food has always had an important place, with a view to never wasting. It’s not something I was taught, it’s just always been that way.

What does your kitchen look like?

It’s a kitchen in an apartment in Montreal, on the third floor. It is adjacent to a terrace, which offers a beautiful light. I like when it’s fairly uncluttered, so there’s not that much decoration. It’s quite functional, with a few key amenities. There is a central island and when I receive friends, that’s where it happens. We eat, we chat and everyone gets their hands dirty.

What is your speciality ?

I’m short on time and now cook very rarely. Right now, what speaks to me is finding a tomato that’s so good it’s salty without being salty. And don’t try to do ten manipulations with this tomato, but accompany it with simple, tasty things that will enhance it. I think it’s the best thing to share.

What is the kitchen tool you can’t live without?

My hands !

What is your essential ingredient?

Love. It may sound corny to say that, but I think it’s something we often forget: the love of food, the love of the people we cook for.

And do you have a guilty pleasure?

I think if you “plugged” me with maple syrup instead of blood, it might work! Maple syrup pancakes are something I eat when I want to treat myself. It is an element of comfort.

What is your recent discovery?

Vigneron cider from the Camy vineyard. It is a cider made with wild apples which then macerates with marc of pinot gris. It’s really unbelievable !

An unknown address that is worth hearing about?

I would say the Marché des Saveurs, at the Jean-Talon market. It’s a business I’ve been going to for a long time and I get the feeling people think it’s a tourist shop. They have a great cheese stand, they really know Quebec cheeses well and they often have wheel deliveries that few cheese shops have.

If you took the road, you would go…

There are so many places! A friend of mine, Pierre-Olivier Ferry, opened a place [à Métis-sur-Mer], it’s called L’Atelier Culinaire Pierre-Olivier Ferry. He works with local products for real. For example, with what the pickers bring him, he prepares gelatos. I would really like to go see what he does.

I really like Bas-Saint-Laurent. This is the anchor that I have with Kamouraska, where my mother comes from. When I go there, I stop on the way at the bakery Du pain… that’s all! in Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies. In Kamouraska, I go to the Niemand bakery, to the Plant Society of my friend Patrice Fortier, to the Tête d’match microbrewery. There are plenty of places like that. This is the kind of course that I really like to do.

Where would you like to be seated right now?

I would like to be with my family, in Quebec. We are very close, we value that and I am always happy to see them again.

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