Thursday, November 02, 2006

Au Pied de Cochon: The Launch

Neglecting you? Yes, dear readers, that we're guilty of. But all rumors that our silence over the last ten days has been some kind of cheap “Paul is dead”-style publicity stunt (“My God, that explains Michelle’s bare feet peeking out from underneath that check tablecloth on October 12th!”) are grossly exaggerated. In fact, not only has “…an endless banquet” been living up to its name (“It don’t stop!”), we’ve been busier than ever. Conducting interviews, attending events, traveling great distances, giving interviews, taste testing, receiving nominations—it’s been one wild week. There’s hardly a shortage of material kicking around the editorial offices of Endless Banquet Inc. Quite the opposite. We’re dealing with a bumper crop!

It all got started a week ago last Monday at the launch for this handsome looking tome:

au pied de cochon: the album fig. a: Au Pied de Cochon: The Album

Somehow I’d managed to get myself invited (plus one!) to the journalists’ session for Martin Picard’s new book, Au Pied de Cochon: The Album, the book that commemorates his restaurant’s fifth anniversary. We’d been excited about the release of this book for weeks. The word around town was that it wasn’t just a cookbook, it was something of a multimedia extravaganza. Typically that kind of hype might have had us worried, but we had faith in Martin Picard and his team at Au Pied de Cochon—in the three years we’d been going there they’d never let us down yet. So it was with eager anticipation that I opened my copy of Au Pied de Cochon: The Album (not a cookbook, an album) there at the table and started to leaf through it and read—and what I found, I loved. Recipes, photographs, declarations, diagrams, artworks, comics (the French edition, Au Pied de Cochon: l’Album, comes complete with a 40-page comic book), testimonials, and even an impressive DVD (!) which contains over two hours of behind-the-scenes segments, homages to the Québécois terroir, and recipes inspired by Au Pied de Cochon as proposed by friends of the restaurant. Instead of some kind of typical celebrity chef vanity project, you get something that’s much more openly collaborative. Few restaurateurs have been as successful at cultivating a tight, talented équipe as Picard has been. Few restaurateurs have been as dedicated to cultivating a network of artisanal producers from which to draw his high-quality staples. And this book is clearly dedicated to both of these immediate and extended families. Hell, Picard even takes the time to tip his hat to Au Pied de Cochon’s plongeurs. The overall package is irreverent, even anarchic at times, but it is cohesive and even compelling because it has somehow managed to capture the majesty of Au Pied de Cochon’s spirit in all its earthy glory.

the greatest fig. b: the greatest

It’s also terribly funny. Take page 133, for instance. While other cookbooks engage in involuntary surrealism by pairing recipes with photographs that bear little resemblance to them, or offer up all kinds of other cul-de-sacs and misdirections, Au Pied de Cochon revels in its inconsistencies (although, truth be told, it's very well edited). The recipe here—“PDC Petits Cornichons Salés (Pickles)”—is a simple one that includes only six ingredients: baby cucumbers, white vinegar, black peppercorns, a bay leaf, 7 coriander seeds, and coarse salt. The photograph that accompanies it features medium-sized Kirby cukes and lots of garlic. The caption reads: “You’ll no doubt notice here that the photo shows dill and garlic pickles rather than the petit cornichons. At Au Pied de Cochon, we like to make sure our readers are paying attention!” Later, when I asked Picard about the sens d’humour that permeates the book and indeed the restaurant (like its hilarious “backwoods butch” men’s room), he insisted that while not taking themselves too seriously was key to the Au Pied de Cochon experience, being “very, very professional” was job one. As if anyone could possibly take anything Picard and Au Pied de Cochon did lightly!

Crack open your copy of Au Pied de Cochon: The Album and you’ll find virtually every recipe that has made Picard and the restaurant renowned internationally—and justly so, I might add. Foie Gras Poutine, Stuffed Pigs’ Feet, Duck in a Can, PDC Monster Lobster—they’re all there. You’ll also find a typically lively introduction by none other than Anthony Bourdain, the man who made Au Pied de Cochon the subject of one of the more memorable episodes of No Reservations. And you’ll find that all the extras are worthwhile. The photographs have a keen eye to them and are lushly reproduced, the DVD is very well shot and crisply edited and you come away from it thinking that, in spite of his no-nonsense, “Bullshit-Free” demeanor (to paraphrase Bourdain), Picard is a hugely telegenic presence.

If all this wasn’t enough, Picard decided to throw in a multi-course meal to further show off the remarkable generosity that has come to define the restaurant. Living in Montreal, you catch wind of these elaborate affairs at Au Pied de Cochon with some frequency. The measures taken to create their annual Hunter’s Banquet, a phantasmagoria of feather and flesh that Martin Picard describes as being the ultimate expression of his culinary imagination. The magnanimity (sometimes to the point of cruelty) with which friends and fellow travelers (like Bourdain) are treated when they pay Au Pied de Cochon a visit. That kind of thing. It’s a whole other thing to actually find yourself actually taking part in one. Get this:

• heaping portions of wild sturgeon caviar from Abitibi
• tripe gratin with a rich wine sauce
• a monumental club sandwich à la PDC, complete with lobster, foie gras au sel, and smoked mackerel, and smothered in a creamy foie gras-based sauce,
• roasted heirloom Chanteclaire chickens served with an autumn medley of chanterelles, confited garlic, Brussels sprouts, winter artichokes, and hazelnuts
• Savoy cabbage stuffed with quail and guinea hens and mounted ominously with a raised hen’s foot

martin picard serves risotto fig. c: Martin Picard serves his risotto

• a saffron squash risotto with foie gras that was served out of an emptied-out wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, the very one it had been cooked in
• and copious amounts of wine, including a particularly puckish Jurassien red

Only after you’ve experienced a feast of this magnitude do you begin to understand the process of letting go and leaving yourself at the mercy of the talented kitchen staff here that everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Marc Séguin, the restaurant’s artist-in-residence, describes as being the secret towards fully understanding Au Pied de Cochon’s genius loci. Afterwards, I asked Picard what inspired this particular menu and he told me it was a combination of season and circumstances, and what I came to realize was that Picard wasn’t being cute with me. So much of what has made Au Pied de Cochon’s first five years so memorable has to do with introducing talent and vision into an environment that is open and full of possibility, with paring the trappings of the modern restaurant back to its essentials and then unleashing inspired improvisations. Even its hearth, its brick oven that has become such an essential part of Au Pied de Cochon’s elemental cuisine, its heart and soul, was only adapted into the restaurant’s vision after it had been determined that it was too expensive to have it dismantled. Picard tells you in his colorful manner that he placed no restrictions on the making of his adventurous book, that you bring together the ingredients you have on-hand jusqu’à la mayonnaise prennent—until the combination takes hold—but he might as well be talking about his magnificent restaurant.

Anyway, we were having such a good time it took us an hour or so to realize that we were sitting just a chair or two away from Shelagh Rogers, the legendary CBC radio host. Through the haze of the wine and the club sandwich I suddenly picked up on that voice. You see, we hadn’t been introduced at that point, but, having been a radio personality myself for a number of years (albeit, a minor one),* I’m good at placing voices. Anyway, from that point on things livened up further, due in no small part to the champagne that started to pour when Picard sat down for an interview with Rogers.

By the time we left we were walking on air (quite the feat, considering the meal we'd just finished eating). We said goodbye to all our new friends and stepped out into the drizzle that was falling on Duluth. On his new, improved website, Picard describes the essence of Au Pied de Cochon’s philosophy as being bound up with the “intense pleasure… which lingers in the mouth when a morsel of meat, cooked to perfection, exudes its fats and juices over the palate, penetrating the entire body with immediate warmth and well-being.” We knew exactly what he was talking about. We had that sensation in spades.


Au Pied de Cochon: The Album is self-published by Martin Picard/Au Pied de Cochon. It is available directly from the restaurant as well as at Quincaillerie Dante and a number of select local bookstores.

For much more concise thoughts on Martin Picard's new cookbook, check out the following review.

* I never encountered listeners in fancy restaurants, however—more typically I’d get the question, “Hey, are you A.J.?” from cab drivers.


Geneviève said...

Ok. Now I HAVE to buy this book. I spent an hour flipping through its pages in a bookstore last week, laughing out loud and getting weird looks from strangers.
Thanks for the review!
I adore your blog. It is lovely!

Matthew said...

Right, so, is this going to be one of those things where I'm going to have to buy both the English and the French version? Or can I get away with just one?

aj kinik said...

Hi Geneviève,
You're welcome. It's definitely worth it. I've never seen anything like it, and if you're a fan of the restaurant, well...

Hi Matthew,
Okay: the English version features the introduction by Bourdain but no comic book. The French version features the comic book but no introduction by Bourdain. Then there's the issue of translation, but, actually, the translation is very good and manages to capture much of the humor of the original. I'm not sure you need both versions. Then again, who am I to say?

kelli ann said...

allo! i echo the sentiment of that McGill Daily article-- your blog is impressive, and inspiring, and humble, and human. and i *did* catch the shelagh rogers interview too-- i loved how it ended, very affectionately. i caught a comment by a vancouver restaurateur, about how 'APdeC' *couldn't survive* in Vancouver-- not sure what to make of comments like that. here's to endless banquets for many more years!! sounds like you had a great time at the launch.