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Book reviews

Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon: The Album, Martin Picard, Douglas & McIntyre, 2008, 198 pages

  • Lara Rabinovitch

Corps de l’article

Rarely does one find arresting graphic art paired with recipes for Pigs’ Feet, Boudin Maison, or Pork and Beans. But then, how often do we come across Foie Gras Pizza, Duck in a Can, or Venison Tongue in Tarragon Sauce? Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon: The Album is part recipe book, part art journal, photo-memoir, and catalogue of Quebecois farmers, winemakers, and local food products. In short, it encapsulates the work of maverick Chef Martin Picard and his eponymous restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon, in Montreal.

The book’s innovative and boundary-crossing format will be of no surprise to anyone who has dined at PDC, as it is affectionately known by its devotees—a roster which amounts to many, including international food celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain. In fact, Bourdain has not only written the introduction to The Album, but has also repeatedly called the restaurant one of his favourites “on the planet” (7).

With The Album, Picard and his team have ingeniously translated—literally, as Picard originally published L’Album privately in French (2006)—the creative energy of the restaurant into book format. I suspect most home cooks will not run to make Stuffed Pig’s Stomach, prepared by grinding half the stomach in a meat grinder and sewing the cooked entrails along with other ingredients back into the remaining half stomach, or Smoked Mackerel, hot smoked with maple wood chips. But those who buy this book as a delicate instruction manual to reproduce Picard’s inventive foods would miss the point (though more approachable recipes include French Onion Soup or Tourtière de Ville). With its loose thematic organization and sections devoted to “Hog Wild Harvest,” “A Typical Day in the Magdalen Islands,” and “PDC Food Porn,” featuring Picard and his comrades in various stages of undress, The Album acts less as cookbook and more as catalogue of PDC’s creative takes on traditional Quebecois sugar-shack cuisine and foodways. After all, the last image of Picard in The Album is a full spread photograph of the chef, sitting, pants around his ankles, in another (very small) shack of sorts in the woods, door wide open. This photograph no doubt intentionally represents Picard’s in-your-face and bold approach to cuisine.

Despite these irreverent touches, The Album also pays homage to the Quebecois food growers, producers, vintners, and fishermen of the region. Picard trained primarily in Quebec, first at Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec, and later at restaurants in North America and Europe. The Album also pays tribute to his teachers, mentors, and colleagues such as Elena Faita and Normand Laprise, both highly reputed Montreal chefs in their own rights. Although they differ in their cooking styles, these chefs all share a commitment to authenticity and making “what’s good,” as Bourdain calls it, steeped in the traditions they each know and savour, without the theatrical pretensions trendy in many restaurants today.

Not that drama is absent from the restaurant and its accompanying book. At PDC, and in The Album, all is on display for consumption. An enormous cylindrical wood-burning oven greets diners at the door of the restaurant, and the kitchen—with its coterie of chefs, bushels of seasonal produce, and all its messy, delicious scraps—helms the centre. The physicality of PDC is reproduced throughout The Album, and specifically in the two-page anatomically labelled photograph of the kitchen cum restaurant’s layout. The graphic art interspersed in the book further animates the unique flavour of the place, though the illustrator, Tom Tassel, curiously does not receive sufficient credit in The Album.

PDC and its accompanying book clearly offer more than just dinner, reminding us that food is always more than mere calories (of which there are plenty here). While dishes such as Venison Spare Ribs or Pigs’ Feet Meatball Ragoût and photographs of blood-soaked animal innards may evoke Medieval dining of lore, PDC’s food is far from primitive. Rather, like the sticky sweet Pouding Chômeur (translated as “poor man’s pudding”) he serves, Picard has taken the basic staples of his surroundings and elevated them to culinary and, particularly with The Album, artistic heights.

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