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Staple from maple country

The Oberoi has some interesting fare from Canada



Voila! Chef Mario Gagnon shows off his culinary creations. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

"CANADIAN CUISINE? Never heard of it. What do you think it's going to be like?" I obviously wasn't the only one coming up with these remarks. For all those millions who think that Canada only means either immigration or ice hockey, Chef Mario Gagnon of The Hilton, Quebec, has some very patient replies; the first one being there is no single definition of Canadian cuisine.

"Just like in India, Canada has provinces and each province has its own particular cuisine," he explains, quietly. In Bangalore, at the Oberoi's Polo Club, Mario is anxiously supervising the week-long celebration of Canadian cuisine, ensuring that someone doesn't slip in an ingredient that isn't supposed to be there, just because they thought it would taste good. "They don't mean any harm," he admits, "but they really ruin it."

It has been a challenge for him to transport an entire culinary experience from one hemisphere of the globe to the other, very different one. The vegetables are different here, the lamb "is more like goat" and there are no cranberries, or maple. Mario, however, seems to have transcended all those problems, with `creativity' as he'll tell you. The food he dishes out is interesting and, more importantly, quite wholesome.

"Canadian food is very hearty," he explains. "We live in near-freezing conditions and we need all that meat and protein to keep us warm." What's more, it is reflective of the multi-cultural heritage of the country with Dutch, French and English influences. Very simply cooked at times — a traditional `boiled dinner' would have a pot full of roast with vegetables of the season cooked in stock till very tender — the food is usually identified by the area one lives in. For instance, Quebec City, his hometown, offers French-Canadian delicacies that include fine cheeses. Ontario, on the other hand, is popular for its game, poultry and fruit while the Pacific coast offers smoked salmon and geoduck clams, wild rice and cherry pie.

So, we start with a salad that has small shrimps with blueberry (that and some of the other berries came to India in Mario's suitcase), or duck confit with lemon and orange dressing. The French Canadian pea soup is a bit like our dal, being made of dried, yellow split peas, while the maritime clam chowder is chunky, like the Quebecs make it — good for you and tasting just like what you need to start a good meal.

The main course has been probably laid the biggest challenge for Mario — India has a lot more vegetarians than he could even think of. The medley of long-grain rice with spinach, asparagus, bell peppers and cottage cheese might be a little unusual for the Indian palate, but it is a worthy reply.

He has two other vegetarian entrees — both sounding quite delicious. The roasted chicken breast is served on stewed leeks and chicoutai, and served with a generous helping of vegetables. A very pleasant change from our rather heavily marinated and over-cooked poultry. Other listings on the menu include Atlantic salmon fillet stuffed with crabmeat and served with pesto sauce, grilled tenderloin with oyster mushroom sauce, and Ontario pork medallions with caramelised apple and blueberry sauce.

Desserts are a surprise. For some reason, the traditional pancakes with maple syrup are missing. That deficiency, however, is very ably filled by the Quebec sugar pie with fresh cream (the recipe is from Mario's mother and is here alongside) or the carrot cake with cream cheese icing. The Ontario style tea biscuit has fresh strawberries and cream — shades of Wimbledon?

This cuisine is available at the Polo Club from April 3 to April 10 and features an a la carte menu for both lunch and dinner. Drop by, you won't regret it.

KANCHAN KAUR

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