Colombe St-Pierre was 19 when she became chef at Pinot Noir, a wine bar on rue Saint-Denis in Montreal run by her boyfriend of the time, Patrick Piuze, who today produces great wines in Chablis.
Posted at 5:00 a.m.
Colombe was funny and exuberant, extremely sympathetic. A breath of fresh air from Bic. I was a Pinot Noir regular at the end of the 1990s. And since Patrick was the cousin of my friend and roommate, I found myself at the table at home around well-watered dinners in the company of Colombe and even his father, a free spirit who was a lighthouse keeper in Bas-Saint-Laurent.
Colombe was self-taught, had barely started in the profession – while pursuing studies in science and then in literature – but her talent in the kitchen was already standing out. Jean-Paul Grappe, a professor at the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ), has become the mentor of this young chef with exceptional potential.
In 2018, Colombe St-Pierre was elected “Chef of the Year” at the very first gala of the Lauriers de la gastronomie québécoise, which rewards excellence in the field of culinary art. This year, she is part of the jury for the award ceremony hosted by Christian Bégin, whose finalists were announced on Monday.
The chef and co-owner of Chez St-Pierre, at Bic, is an artist, like her two brothers (who work in music and theatre) and her mother, who worked at the National Film Board of Canada. before raising her children. She is still as friendly and exuberant as she was 30 years ago, as evidenced by the colorful wigs she sometimes wears in her restaurant and the proverbs that punctuate her interventions at the end of the program. The Chiefs ! at Radio-Canada, where she has been the new mentor for three weeks.
Also, like the proverbial animated character in the Mini-Wheats cereal commercials, Colombe St-Pierre has a frosty side and a nutritious side, literally and figuratively. Since she decided 20 years ago to return to live in her part of the country and to open a restaurant there with her lover and butler, Alexandre Vincenot, she has been campaigning for greater food autonomy in his region.
“I’ve been talking about food self-sufficiency for 20 years,” she says. It’s not a fad for me. It’s a lifestyle ! What we have done is put forward the model of artisanal production, short circuits, traceability, distribution networks for small producers. It is not enough to know how to work a product. You have to organize yourself to make sure that this product reaches your home, that you are able to make it profitable and to transform it in such a way that you do not have any losses. »
If we do not collectively question the dominant industrial model, believes Colombe St-Pierre, we are heading straight for the precipice. “The whole world is talking about food self-sufficiency. It’s not like we’re a bunch of crackpots! »
The whole world she traveled in her twenties, dragging her backpack for almost a decade in Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa and South America, working in different establishments and trying to quench an insatiable thirst for knowledge. This is what makes her the chef she is today and what motivates her all the more to defend Quebec gastronomy, which she believes is characterized by her joie de vivre, her hospitality and her creativity.
“With very little financial assistance, we managed to promote Quebec gastronomy internationally. This is also where Quebec pride and the confirmation of our existence as a people will pass,” she said.
I love Quebec, I love Quebecers, I find that we are creative, I find that we live in an extraordinary territory and the only thing I blame us for is not knowing it!
Listening to her speak, inexhaustibly, of what she is passionate about, an expression comes to mind: food sovereignty. Which makes him regret, for example, all the interest aroused in his region by the potential opening of a Costco branch in Rimouski.
“We have a problem of affirmation and we have a problem of knowledge of the global international situation, whether in the environment or in the economy, believes Colombe St-Pierre. How is it that in Quebec, we don’t know that in the oceans, there are no more fish and that we are one of the last places in the world where there are? »
The activist is angry with political leaders for having favored free trade, imports and exports for decades, to the detriment of the consumption of local products.
For a Quebecer, it’s easier and cheaper to eat a French cheese than a Quebec cheese! And it has become a feat to have access to local marine products. What is our vision of tomorrow? Do we want to continue eating cheap French cheeses and tilapia full of toxins?
Unity is strength
It is in this state of mind that she took part, two weeks ago, in the first meeting of the collective La Table ronde, which brings together some 35 of the most renowned chefs in Quebec, including her fellow judges from the Chiefs! Normand Laprise and Jean-Luc Boulay. Together, they want to tackle the problems of access to local products, profitability and labor shortages, exacerbated by the pandemic. The first signs are encouraging: The Round Table has succeeded in obtaining nearly $1 million in financial assistance from the Legault government.
“We were extremely creative, in adversity. For me, it was essential that we recognize him. I even underlined to Mr. Legault my enthusiasm and my great joy at having finally heard from the mouth of a Prime Minister that it is dangerous to depend so much on others and that it could eventually be one of the priorities of the government, of move towards greater food self-sufficiency. »
We guess that his enthusiasm is contagious, in an environment, that of independent catering, as recognized for its camaraderie as for its competitive spirit. “It’s a great initiative to pool our efforts,” says Colombe St-Pierre. We’ve been in clans long enough. I remember Antonin Mousseau [du Mousso] and Charles-Antoine Crete [du Montréal Plaza] who were fighting in the street in front of L’Express. I arrived from my remote region and I couldn’t believe it! It’s beautiful that we manage to unite. Regardless of the style of cooking we do, or the choices we have made, the fact remains that we all work in the same common project which is the influence of gastronomy. »
This project is obviously close to his heart. This does not prevent him from seeing with lucidity the many pitfalls and obstacles to overcome. “It’s big, everything we’re going to have to restore, organize, if we really want it to develop. Because basically, that’s kind of the question: do we stagnate and then watch each other die one after the other or do we organize ourselves? »
For her and her restaurant, she says, it was one to midnight. Chez St-Pierre is only open four months a year, during the tourist season. This is a limited window to make a business profitable. Also, due to the labor shortage and the limits imposed by sanitary measures, Colombe St-Pierre has not opened its dining room for two years.
“We were already almost volunteering before the pandemic! Chefs have far too long charged just the value of what they serve. There is the value of the product, but also the value of our work. Ask any chef, there aren’t many who charge for their work. »
A new formula
What she will offer when Chez St-Pierre reopens in mid-May is a new, more user-friendly single-serve blind menu. In particular to counter the skyrocketing price of foodstuffs. “We are proposing a concept to stabilize prices, because, with what is happening at the moment, in the same format as before, it would cost $250-300 per person to eat at home! It’s beyond my psychological limit. »
The new formula will also have the advantage of limiting food waste. “Before, people chose what they wanted on the menu. And I stayed stuck with all the unknown products! Customers were ordering salmon and I had all the sea urchins left that I hadn’t sold. I have to buy enough from the fisherman to make it worthwhile for him to deliver them to me. »
The formula that I am proposing solves a host of problems. If it’s not glasswort time, you won’t have any on your plate! And I will be able to stay in the business.
Barely three years after being crowned with the most prestigious title of the Lauriers de la Gastronomie Québécoise, when Chez St-Pierre had just been ranked 38and on the prestigious restaurant list of Canada’s 100 Bestthe “best chef in Quebec” seriously considered hanging up her apron.
“I understood that I couldn’t go on like this,” she admits. It was even dangerous for my mental and physical health. I decided to protect myself to stay in restoration. What I propose as a model will be more democratic and more livable for everyone. The pandemic has pushed us to tell ourselves that before, maybe it wasn’t ideal after all! »
No question, however, of skimping on quality. As was the case with La Cantine côte Chez St-Pierre, an annex to the restaurant since 2020, which will be back in June. “We are capable of doing great things, but in a relaxed way. It’s a bit what I embody in my restaurant. People ask me why I wear wigs. Just because I’m serious about cooking doesn’t mean I have to be straight! It’s important to me that we keep this friendliness and accessibility. When I perform internationally, that’s what we remember. »
The “bug in St-Pierre”, as she calls herself, now wants to be able, between two courses, to talk to her customers. “Talking about how you separate that, a whole fish, how you cut that, a rib of beef, how you flame a piece of meat. Incorporate a little cooking class into the experience. »
Accessibility, in all its forms, is more than ever at the heart of its concerns. It is also for this reason that she accepted the invitation to take part in the Chiefs!a program that certainly does useful work with its mission of popular education around Quebec gastronomy.
“It’s the logical continuation of Daniel Pinard, Josée Di Stasio and Ricardo, notes Colombe St-Pierre. We try to be accessible because we are addressing a large audience. It’s one of my priorities. We have made gastronomy too elitist. We must democratize gastronomy so that it does not die. »
Questionnaire without filter
Coffee and me: Addicted ben stiff. Unable to do without it.
My ideal Sunday: In the morning, brunch, bubbles and oysters by the water with my family and friends. The afternoon in motocross.
The people I would like to gather at the table, dead or alive: Madonna, Mother Teresa, Che Guevara, Quentin Tarantino, Goran Bregovic, Bob Marley, Jean-Paul Grappe, René Lévesque, Céline Galipeau, and many more…
A trip that makes me dream: Zimbabwe.
My favorite motto: I remember.
Who is Colombe St-Pierre?
- Born October 26, 1977 in Rimouski (Le Bic), in Bas-Saint-Laurent
- Spent his early childhood on Bicquette Island, off Bic Park.
- Started as a dishwasher at La Marivaude, at 17, while studying science at CEGEP in Montreal, before working in the kitchen, notably at the Caveau, Pinot Noir and Mange-Grenouille.
- Opened his own restaurant Chez St-Pierre, in 2003, at Bic, with his lover Alexandre Vincelot. They are parents of three daughters.
- In 2018, received the “Chef of the Year” award from the first edition of the Lauriers de la Gastronomie Québécoise and a medal from the National Assembly for his culinary successes and his defense of local products.