So how was it?
I'm still not sure. Did I like it? I liked having been, for sure. It was quite the event, and people from all kinds of spheres have been talking about it ever since, so it's always nice to be able to say that hey, you were there.
But. This was seriously trying for my minglephobe tendencies. I kept repeating myself that I was there for work. I was sent there. My name was on the list. And I did my job: go there, see what's it's all about, taste the food, leaf through the book (it's a self-published, expensive, humongous work of art, so we weren't handed copies), talk to the sous-chef, take notes, grab a few pictures, then write my article.
Here's how it went. I drive an hour outside the city in a snowstorm, to end up in the middle of Nowhere, PQ. I finally arrive, and there are a few TV crews outside, as well as a few interviews in progress alongside the huge Texan barbecue. I see two doors to the sugar shack main building: one employee who saw me arrive goes inside by the middle one, then promptly shuts the door, so I take that as a cue that this isn't where I'm supposed to come in. So I open the other door, and here I am in... the kitchen. There are ten or so cooks and other employees, and he (Martin, the chef, the big guy) is right there, three feet away. There are camera crews and people taking pictures so it's not like I'm the only outsider there, but I am still lost, and confused. I look around, probably very deer-in-the-headlights-ish. After two long minutes, he asks one of his employees to "bring people to the dining room, since some seem to think that here is where it's happening, while it's not". Clearly this is targeted to me -he wasn't annoyed or anything, but still, one strike against me and my awkardness. I enter the dining room. Of course there was a third door, the right one, which I hadn't even seen. I'm right on time but there are still few people, several of whom I recognize (like her, with her three children. We briefly talked on Twitter the week before, so I have an excuse to go introduce myself, especially with the kids and all, and I almost do, but then I chicken out of course).
I go into a corner, surely looking plainly scared. The PR lady comes to talk to me for a few minutes. No one seems to have come alone, and everyone seems to know everyone, of course. He comes and goes, doing interviews but otherwise not making any kind of public announcement, and a few times I see him downing shots of vodka(?) straight from the bottle. There are little fritters in cute paper cones, so I go grab one. Everyone marvels at them, I bite into them, and downright hate them -it's fried pork fat, which is just a little too much for me. I introduce myself to an Anglo journalist, who's there for the American magazine Organic Gardening. She's friendly and reassuring, especially when I tell her that's it's my first big assignment. I relax a little. I eat, sip about half of a gin/spruce beer/lime jelly cocktail, chat up a few people, eat, ask questions, eat, study the book for ten good minutes, have tea. I take in the scene (the place is packed by now) and think about the article. I'm feeling better towards the end, even talking to her -nothing short of a local cultural institution- for five minutes (she did wear her tradermark turban but otherwise sported civilian clothes). When I leave, I realize that I've spent two hours there but it rather felt like 10 grueling, especially exhausting ones.
I was unprepared, I guess. I had of course forgotten the camera home, only thinking about it when it was just a tad too late to turn back. Maybe I wouldn't have been able to take decent pictures (I'm still such a novice), but it would have given me more of a purpose, more of a "professional" aura. I mean of course, if you're part of a media launch, you need a camera, even if it looked like very ordinary ones were accepted. Similarly, I couldn't find the little notepad I could have sworn I had in my purse. This surprised me: everyone was taking notes on old-school notepads. Was it really necessary? Probably not, since I remembered all the details fine when I sat
There were a lot of Anglo media: this also surprised me, and it's probably quite unusual (someone from Time Magazine was there, for instance). It made me realized how big he has become. Anthony Bourdain quotes him as his favourite chef ever, and even said the following: "Martin Picard’s particular genius – beyond having the impeccable sense and timing to realize that now, right now, is the perfect time to give the whole world of fine dining the middle finger – is that he knows who he is, what he loves to eat, where he comes from, what’s good, and how best to prepare it so as to most effectively allow others to discover what was good about it all along."
Why the craze? I honestly don't know. I admire him, but to tell you the truth I am also a little bit put-off by his persona and his style of cooking, which can best be described as "neo-rustic". He's a big burly guy, provocative and self-assured, with very masculine/rough references, unrepentedly living for pleasure and sin. He's wearing plaid flannel shirts and going hunting and getting drunk and pulling off bizarre stunts such as drawing the outline of a whole deer on a chalkboard, then cooking all its parts and putting them back together like a puzzle on the image. He cooks with blood, with animal brains. I'm becoming less and less of a meat-eater as I grow older, and all of this makes meat incredibly unappealing to me. But at the same time, he has a point, and I have to admit that if you're going to do meat, you'd have a hard time finding someone who has a better approach. His staff visit all of the farms and only buy where the animals are treated the best. His philosophy is to cook everything, even the very humble parts, to honor and respect the animal that gave its life. His hunting has a certain awareness-raising aspect as well: to demonstrate the whole cycle of eating meat, from killing an animal to preparing it for human consumption, contrary to this general idea now that meat is fleshless, stemming from a styrofoam tray. I do believe that if most people knew where meat came from and how it was raised, they would probably make more conscious choices, so he has to be lauded for that. Two interesting articles in English about him and his phenomenon: from The Globe and Mail, and then from Maisonneuve.
All in all, honestly it didn't go so bad. I am still a little terrified, and I still have this little voice inside my head that keeps saying FRAUD, FRAUD, FRAUD!, but I certainly did not make a fool of myself (even though I'm clearly not a natural to this scene) and even made a few contacts. And I guess I should cut myself a little slack, this being my first time to speak of, and this being "as big as it gets for Montreal", as one Gazette journalist pointed out to me.
One last confession: I don't love maple syrup. But I should have trusted him to do this right. The smoked meat/lobster souffleed omelet was to die for, by the way.