Authenticity in Cooking and the Anatomy of a Good Poutine

It’s been an interesting month for me in terms of talking to local food people about how they recreate the tastes of back home for people from back home.  How do they, moreover, share these flavours with people who have never had them before?  I spend some time visiting a Thai restaurant and learning about how they manage authenticity, but I feel that the same sort of questions can be applied to a place like La Belle Patate, where the owner, Matthieu Lott, is trying to bring the flavours of Montreal to Victoria. 

Let me say off the bat that La Belle Patate shoots their culinary arrow right into the centre of the target.  I moved here from Montreal and the food Matthieu serves there, the poutine, the steamed hot dogs, the burgers, the smoked meat, and the Montreal style subs are all things that I know intimately.  I also think that La Belle Patate has managed to make their décor and environment the closest thing to a genuine Montreal dining experience that one can have off the island of Montreal, but the reason for this are complex and better saved for another discussion.

belle patate - matthieu works the line

A poutine, a proper one I mean, doesn’t seem like much.  It’s only a combination of fries, cheese curds, and gravy.  That said, it’s easy to get it wrong.  I talk to Lott for some time about how he gets it right.  For example, Lott tries, as much as possible, to use BC grown Yukon Gold potatoes.  They simply provide the best flavour and the best consistency for the kind of chip that a proper poutine requires.  The Yukon Gold, however, like all crops, is seasonal and therefore in the late summer he often finds himself stockpiling up to 5000lbs of potatoes in cold storage in his garage to get through the winter.

The cheese curds, meanwhile, are an entirely different question.  Lott has tried a number of local outlets for procuring the right kind of cheese curds; the ones that squeak perfectly on the teeth when bitten.  He has also tried to have cheese frozen and shipped from Quebec.  Some local operations have an excellent product, but because they are smaller businesses, they charge too much.  Poutine is a blue collar food, Lott explains, and so there has to be some understanding that the cost will not be prohibitive.  There cannot be only three curds in each poutine because of the expense of providing more without jacking up the price of the meal.

belle patate - cutting fries
belle patate - exterior

Lott’s solution has been to get curds shipped from a farm in Manitoba that is providing the maximum balance between price and freshness.  Beyond this, he explains, the operation is kosher.  This means that in the process of checking the cheese for religious purposes, it is being double checked for sanitary reasons.  The result is an always-top quality cheese, free from any unwanted or suspect ingredients.  Lott himself, meanwhile, makes the gravy…and it’s delicious.

Another consideration for where and how to sell poutine is the location.  Esquimalt, sandwiched between the army base and École Victor-Brodeur, which is an enormous French emersion high school, is a prime place for setting up a business based on French Canadian culinary tastes.  Lott waited for years, he says, watching one pizza place after another fail at his current location, knowing that what the community needed was Quebec-style food, before the opening came and he took the place.  The rest is history.  Sometimes on the weekend, the entire restaurant is packed with people speaking French.  To them, this place is a small reminder of home, and it is important for La Belle Patate to get it right.

I myself, a former Montreal citizen, awash in the so called ROC (rest of Canada) plan to return to La Belle Patate often to eat my much missed steak and pepperoni subs, with a side of poutine.  If you see me in there, come over and say salut!


La Belle Patate


1215 Esquimalt Road

Victoria, BC V9A3P2

(250) 220-8427


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Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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