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It’s hard not to focus on the gluttony in this episode (enviously, not judgmentally). But this was about Quebecois identity and the changing face of Canada as much as it was about delicious food.
“I love Montreal,” Anthony Bourdain states in a voice over at the beginning of tonight’s episode of Parts Unknown. “It is my favorite place in Canada. The people who live there are tough, crazy bastards.”
So begins what appears to be Bourdain’s most gluttonous dive into a country so far in Parts Unknown. This episode, while billed in CNN’s press materials as an exploration of Canada by rail, is so much a love letter to Quebec that the other provinces should file serious grievances with their broadcasting authorities.
Bourdain’s first stop is ice fishing on the St. Lawrence River with Fred Morin and Dave McMillan, the chef and owner of Montreal’s legendary Joe Beef restaurant. After a few minutes of pretending to fish they retreat to a five foot by five foot cabin on the ice and cook a meal over a wood burning stove.
Around the fourth course, Bourdain asks “Is there a billionaire or despot anywhere on earth who’s eating better than us?”
The answer is likely no.
Bourdain next heads out with chef Martin Picard and trapper Carl Blondin for some trapping. Picard is the mind behind Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal’s temple of gastronomy. But it’s not beyond Picard to hunt, skin, and cook his own beaver dinner, as Bourdain and his film crew demonstrate.
If you want to track down Blondin for your own tour, the fixer for this section of the episode will help you:
As seen on CNN, Carl Blondin will take you hunting in Quebec. Super nice dude. His website http://t.co/b1u0K0Tujt
— Tamy Emma Pepin (@TamyEmmaPepin) May 6, 2013
Bourdain leaves Montreal by rail and heads to Quebec City with the Joe Beef guys, one of whom turns out to be an insane rail fan, and who provides a impetus for Bourdain’s further exploration of Canada by train — and it’s more than culinary.
Once in Quebec City, Bourdain and his men settle into Le Continental, an old-school establishment that, while stuffy as can be, does everything right, from the table-side Caesar Salad (ironically covered early today on former channel-mate Anthony Zimmern’s new show about borders), to other dishes familiar with continental cuisine fans who cruised on ocean liners in the golden years.
The next stop is decidedly un-ocean worthy; the upstart L’Affaire est Ketchup, a freewheeling kitchen and restaurant where the chef cooks on two four-burner electric stoves. Bourdain is challenged by a hipster conundrum: Are they poseurs, or is he just old?
“I don’t know, but I admire them,” he decides.
After Bourdain has tucked into more foie gras than his cardiologist would recommend, he deals with the meaty issue: Is Quebec really Canada?
He has a meal with journalist Patrick Lagacé, who states “Anybody who says separatism is dead in this country, in this province, is a fool.” Then, as is his want, Bourdain goes to a beloved institution — in this case Wilensky’s — for a meal, where he doesn’t find answers, but he does have something delicious.
For one of the final segments Bourdain hooks up with his beaver-hunting friend Picard at his most audacious restaurant, a Maple Syrup “shack” in the woods that’s a destination restaurant drawing food lovers to the forest for enormous, rich meals. How rich? The “salad” has sautéed duck hearts, gizzards, and pigs’ ears. And, yes, it’s topped with pork rinds.
The dinner, appears to have been legendary in its proportions. Bourdain’s wife says as much in a tweet:
— Ottavia Bourdain (@OttaviaBourdain) May 6, 2013
But after this Quebecois onslaught, the show ends with a nod to why Canada has become this century’s North American melting pot. Anthony and the Joe Beef guys return to Montreal and their low-end restaurant Liverpool House. There, the trio is served an off-menu traditional Pakistani feast by the restaurant’s Pakistani chef Omar. It’s a reminder that Canada is no longer just about the English and the French, it’s now about the Pakistanis, the Somalis, the Chinese, the Angolans, and everyone else looking for a better life.
Travel advertisers in this episode: Expedia’s “Find Yours” campaign and Viking River Cruises’ latest European push.