TRAVEL

Christina Reynolds takes in the East­ern Town­ships—a land of ver­dant hills and de­li­cious bites at ev­ery turn.

Elle (Canada) - - Front Page - By Christina Reynolds

A de­li­cious ad­ven­ture in Que­bec’s heart­land.

marc-An­dré Blais may not call him­self a “food sherpa”—the new­est term for a spe­cial­ized lo­cal foodie guide—but he is. As the Clefs d’Or concierge at Manoir Hovey, a Re­lais & Châteaux inn tucked along the banks of Lake Mas­saw­ippi just out­side North Hat­ley, Que., he knows the area, and its ed­i­ble bounty, in­ti­mately. Blais grew up in this re­gion and, ex­cept for a six-year stint work­ing in Europe, has lived here his whole life. “We are lo­cated in the mid­dle of nowhere, but this is the most beau­ti­ful nowhere,” he says of the sur­round­ing birch, maple and pick-your-own-Christ­mas-tree forests, rolling meadows, dairy farms, or­chards, winer­ies and quaint lit­tle towns that are home to an as­sort­ment of unique lo­cal bistros.

On warm sum­mer and fall morn­ings, Blais of­ten di­rects culi­nar­ily in­clined guests out on “for­age”your-own-pic­nic ad­ven­ture drives. (See “Ex­plore & Eat.”) His care­fully edited se­lec­tion of stops for home­made cheeses, but­ters, breads, meats, wines and fruit cul­mi­nates with your own gourmet pic­nic be­side an out-of-the-way cov­ered bridge, one of the few re­main­ing in the area. He’ll also en­cour­age you to make one last stop at his favourite dairy for “the creami­est home­made ice cream ever” be­fore re­turn­ing to the Manoir. He’ll ad­vise a late-af­ter­noon swim in the pool or lake (wa­ter tem­per­a­tures: 27°C and 22°C, re­spec­tively, ac­cord­ing to a chalk­board on the boathouse when I was there in June) and maybe a nap (or, let’s be real­is­tic, a mini food coma) on the screened-in porch be­fore head­ing to Manoir Hovey’s Le Hat­ley Restau­rant for the ex­pertly plated sev­en­course tast­ing menu, where ev­ery dish is flavoured and gar­nished with herbs and ed­i­ble flow­ers from the property’s gar­dens.

Be­fore din­ner, chef Roland Mé­nard, who grew up in the nearby town of Ma­gog and has been with the restau­rant for 33 years (the ho­tel has been owned and op­er­ated by the Stafford fam­ily for 35 years), takes me on a tour of the gar­dens right out­side the kitchen. He shows me how he and his team for­age for lo­cal plants, like milk­weed—his keen eye im­me­di­ately spots a stalk grow­ing at the base of a birch tree near the lobby en­trance. It just might make its way onto the menu. The pre­vi­ous night, my amuse-bouche was a freshly har­vested cat­tail heart paired with flower petals and a touch of warm laven­der honey—it tasted a bit like a heart of palm.

“I al­ways look to find some­thing with a dif­fer­ent flavour that I can put on the menu,” Mé­nard tells me. “What I re­ally like is when cus­tomers come up the hill here, look at the gar­den and say ‘Oh, that’s what I’m go­ing to eat tonight’ be­cause they see it is so fresh.” From gar­lic chives and sor­rel to lit­tle pur­ple pan­sies and wild pep­per­mint, each of the gar­den in­gre­di­ents Mé­nard points out makes its way onto my plate at some point dur­ing my stay—gen­er­at­ing yet an­other food mem­ory to savour. h

Go to el­le­canada.com/blog for three book rec­om­men­da­tions for arm­chair-travel food­ies.

Chef Roland Mé­nard

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