As the brains behind a number of popular Canadian cooking shows and two of Montreal’s best-known restaurants, as well as one-time winner of Iron Chef America, Chuck Hughes has carved out a spot for himself among the very best chefs in Canada. After finishing his culinary school training, Hughes found his start in the kitchens of some of Montreal’s hottest restaurants, before opening his own place, Garde Manger, in 2006. Located in the heart of Old Montreal, the restaurant quickly gained a local following and even won rave reviews in media outlets south of the border.
By 2010, Hughes had entered the world of television as the host of Chuck’s Day Off, a show that followed him about his day-to-day routine and into the kitchen of his increasingly popular eatery. Not long after, in 2011, Hughes opened his second Montreal restaurant, Le Bremner, and has since become a household name on Canadian TV and for foodies across the country. Chuck Hughes is also known for having several tattoos of his favourite foods – including bacon, lobster, and arugula – and his most recent project is a cooking show dedicated to learning about the culinary traditions of Canada’s indigenous communities.
Chuck Hughe’s Quebec-style Holiday Menu - Le Réveillon
As a Montreal native, Chuck Hughes is no stranger to French-Canadian culinary traditions, and his holiday menus are influenced by his personal experience of Christmas Eve customs. Like many French-Canadian families, Hughes and his family observe the ritual of le Réveillon, a long festive feast held after midnight mass on the night of December 24th. The tradition’s name comes from the word réveil, meaning “wake up”, since the celebrations often extend well into the morning hours. While le Réveillon is also observed in different forms elsewhere in the world, Hughes has identified some of the essential dishes that simply can’t be missed at a true Québecois festive feast.
While Christmas dinners in other parts of North America tend to revolve around turkey, the French-Canadian tradition is centred around pork – more specifically, a slowly simmered and warmly spiced pig’s feet stew, also known as ragoût de pattes de cochon. The feet are boiled for hours to create a thick broth used to make a rich, brown gravy, which is poured over ground pork meatballs spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Hughes himself has noted that this dish might be a tad on the heavy side, but that’s part of what makes it an excellent centrepiece to a Christmas feast.
A classic accompaniment to the pig’s feet stew, and another must for a Réveillon table, are homemade pickled vegetables, including beets of course, which give the vegetables a vibrant pink colour. While it may sound like an involved process, pickling your own vegetables is surprisingly easy and doesn’t have to be a long-term project. While you can keep the pickles refrigerated for a month, they’ll be ready to enjoy within just 48 hours. Of course, preparing them further in advance will develop the extra tangy flavour you might be looking for.
The bûche de Noël, or Yule log, is an absolute must to complete the authentic Québecois Christmas dinner when it comes to dessert. This rolled cake takes a bit of extra care and patience, but the result is a most delicious chocolate-vanilla spiral that looks seriously impressive on any festive table. A bûche de Noël is often decorated to look like the Yule logs that would traditionally burn in family fireplaces at Christmastime, and is also a tradition in many other French-speaking regions of the world.
Besides this classic menu, there is arguably the most traditional French-Canadian Christmas dish of them all: tourtière. Tourtiere is a double-crusted meat pie made from different types of minced meat, often served with a sweet sauce or relish, and many Québecois will insist that their grandmother makes the best anywhere. Recipes for tourtiere vary significantly from one region to the next, with differing approaches to spices, side sauces, the types of meat or filling used, or even how finely to grind the meat in the first place. There are plenty of opinions about what makes the perfect tourtiere, but if you learn a few pro tips and tricks before getting started you’ll be well on your way to baking your own French-Canadian classic.
Chef Hughes himself once admitted that eating such a lavish feast late into the night is a bit crazy and modernised approaches to the réveillon have of course emerged over time. Most of these involve pushing the meal forward into the late evening, and several restaurants in cities across Québec will offer réveillon dinners on the night of 24 December. Regardless of whether it gets started before or after midnight, it is a proud tradition that is alive and well in Québec, propelled by some magnificent, quintessentially Canadian recipes.