We’ve talked with Vices & Versa’s chef Carl Poulin about the quiet revolution he is leading in his kitchen, and why it will endure…
Carl Poulin worked in many different restaurants before ending up at Vices & Versa. “The owners were very open about letting me change the menu and doing my own thing. I came here and sort of took control over the kitchen and they said, ‘Ok, you’re the chef!’. That’s how the revolution started…” remembers Carl. A revolution that changed the menu from classic bar food -burgers and poutine- to more seasonally and locally sourced dishes. « We still have burgers but the meat isn’t generic anymore, it’s from a farm in Mont-Laurier, and the bread comes from Première Moisson. I’m currently working on an octopus dish braised in red wine, with black rice and kohlrabi. » A simple and tasty menu, with no frills and good, honest products.
The strong appeal to work with local products -Nordest’s meat, home made smoked salmon, Québec’s tomatoes and blueberries, micro greens from jardins Bioma, etc.- is for Carl a matter of principle. « We have people here in Québec crafting beautiful products and growing delicious produce. It is our job [i.e., the chefs’] to offer that local bounty to customers, to help distribute it. » If this seems like sound reasoning now, it was less so 4 or 5 years ago according to Carl. Could it be a simple trend? “More of a tipping point” thinks Poulin. « The interest in where how food comes from, who grew it, who raised it… This will endure. It becomes a value. »
The value of local consumption manifests in all kinds of initiatives, from urban agriculture to products now being labeled ‘made in Québec’. For Carl, Provender is clearly a significant step in the direction leading to shorter food chains: “I’ve been with Provender since the beginning. I think the idea is brilliant; to me it represents the future.”
Towards the end of our meeting, Carl brings me into the kitchen and gives me a piece of finely cut kohlrabi. « I got it through Provender. I don’t usually cook with it but I thought, ‘Ok, I’m going to try it’. And I love it! » While he’s in the kitchen, he insists that I try the octopus dish, « it’s not on the menu yet » he tells me, but it ought to be: the meat is firm and tender at the same time; the black rice is cooked to perfection and soaked with red wine sauce; baby kale, cherry tomatoes and thin slices of kohlrabi top off the dish by adding crunch and texture, with the subtle addition of sesame seeds and peas. It’s simple, fresh, flavourful, and represents superbly the end of summer bounty. With a wonderfully cold fall coming full speed, I will certainly hang out more often near Carl’s kitchen, a pitcher of microbrewed beer in one hand, a fork in the other, and friends around the table… a simple recipe for a good evening.