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Chef Jean-Christophe Poirier’s Cookbook is a Love Letter to French Cooking

Tarte au Sucre

If you asked Chef Jean-Christophe Poirier (JP) what his favourite cuisine is, he would undoubtedly say French. Is it because he was born in Quebec? Or because of his travels to France? Or the fact that he owns and operates a French Michelin-starred restaurant in Vancouver? If you guessed any or all of these, you would be right. Chef JP’s inspiration is an amalgamation of his upbringing from a humble Québec home to the fast-paced life of running one of Canada’s top restaurants. And now, at the height of his career, Chef JP was able craft his long-awaited cookbook, Where the River Narrows.

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Ahead of the cookbook’s release, we sat down with JP to chat all things Where the River Narrows and try some of the dishes from the book. It quickly became clear that everything showcased in the cookbook is a reflection of Chef JP, from the complex recipes to humble classics. Chef JP’s goal is for French cooking to be accessible yet challenging, and still casual but precise. He hopes that by exploring this cookbook, you too will create a better connection with food, one that brings fond memories and kind ambitions.

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Venison Meat Pie, Penguin Random House

Humble beginnings

Growing up in Saint-Jérôme, Québec, Chef JP wasn’t really interested in cooking – he much preferred playing sports. He did, however, feel a strong connection to food through gatherings with friends and family. “The act of dining together was integral to my family’s culture,” Chef JP mentions. “My mother always encouraged me to be creative in or out of the kitchen with whatever means we had.” Chef JP recalls foraging with his dad and helping his mom cook. “My mom could cook anything on a budget.” Chef JP is no stranger to adapting new cooking styles with limited resources. He understands the value of food in all its forms, as did his mother. 

In his cookbook, Chef JP recalls that his passion for cooking was sparked later on in his youth. One of his most notable experiences was working with Chef Normand Laprise at Toqué!. He noted that the high level of organization and precision in Chef Laprise’s kitchen was unmatched. His time at Toqué! taught him much about the industry, lifestyle and trajectory of where he wanted to go in his career. It was when he noticed Chef Rob Feenie’s newly opened restaurant Lumière in Vancouver that things truly started to take off. 

Flavour is king

Chef JP is firm when he says “if I had to choose between flavour and presentation, I would choose flavour every time.” In the age of TikTok and Instagram when everything is heavily curated, quality can often get lost in the sauce, so to speak. At Chef JP’s restaurant St. Lawrence in Vancouver, every dish is meticulously crafted to highlight the deepest components of each dish, while still maintaining an exceptional visual appeal. Finding balance between beauty and boldness was something he learned during his time in Lyon, France. Something about the city drew him to learn more about the epic gastronomy culture there. Not to mention, culinary legends like Daniel Boulud studied there.

Although Chef JP is a master of his craft now, he recalls the first recipe he ever developed needed some work. “Cured salmon and cucumber salad,” he said. “Absolutely delicious, but the presentation was horrible.” Having a deep connection with his French culture, much of his early recipes is a callback to it. During his travels in France, he even found remnants of Québec culture in places like Normandy where the cuisine and mannerisms are quite similar. 

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Salted Caramel Rice Pudding, Penguin Random House

Michelin mania

Around the time of Chef JP’s cookbook launch, the Michelin guide was expected to announce their Michelin star recipients for Vancouver. Like any chef at the top of their game, Chef JP was anxious with excitement and anticipation. “I never thought Michelin would come to Canada, let alone receiving a Michelin star” he mentions. “It’s all still such a blur and even now I am still in shock.” Loved by many, St. Lawrence exemplifies what it takes to receive a Michelin star, and it feels only fitting the cookbook is a reflection of that same caliber.

If I could describe my team in three words, it would be: loyal, persistent and consistent.

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I had the opportunity to try the white cod and mussels in a cream sauce, along with tarte tatin from his cookbook. Each dish was invigorating. By reading Where the River Narrows, you truly feel immersed into French cooking, whether you’re a novice or a pro. Chef JP wants your cooking experience to feel like you’re stepping into his kitchen for a family meal. So while you’re deep diving into Chef JP’s cookbook, he wants you to remember one very important thing: “you can never have too much [good] butter.”

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