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A raw look at two Quebec superstar chefs Add to ...

Durs à cuire, literally translated, means hard to cook. The words are also used to describe a tough, macho personality - and both meanings apply to masterful Quebec chefs Normand Laprise and Martin Picard, the subjects of an unsentimental and often brutal documentary with the expression as its title.

The two men are celebrities in Quebec for bringing international attention to innovative cuisine and regional producers. Mr. Laprise has been doing artful fusion at Toqué! for 15 years; Mr. Picard is best know for turning traditional French-Canadian dishes such as poutine into haute cuisine at his restaurant Au Pied de Cochon.

Gastronomy is such an important subject to Quebeckers that the film, which followed the chefs for 18 months, has been selected to open the prestigious Festival du Nouveau Cinéma next week. That's a coup for 29-year-old director Guillaume Sylvestre, who spent seven years trying to find financing for Durs à cuire, his first feature-length film.

Because Mr. Sylvestre wanted to show all the grit that goes into making perfectly presented meals, there are few images of the dishes prepared at the two Montreal restaurants. Instead, the camera lingers on gnarled chicken feet, rows of hanging, featherless guinea fowl and a knife slicing pink fish flesh.

"It's the opposite of the sanitized images you see as a diner," Mr. Sylvestre says in an interview.

The two chefs are portrayed as equally raw, whether guzzling bottles of Moët et Chandon champagne while riding around to meet local producers, sipping tea from the pot at a Chinese restaurant or drinking from an old shoe and disrobing during a meal.

Mr. Sylvestre's unflinching view of the chefs and their food created some obstacles. Some would-be backers did not believe a first-time feature director could handle the material.

He also depicts some scenes that advance viewers have found shocking. On a trip to Spain, Mr. Picard watches the outdoor slaughter of a boar famous for the making of Serrano ham. Everything is captured - from the pig squealing and fighting for its life to the blood gushing as the jugular is slit.

But Mr. Sylvestre wanted to show how the Spanish farmers rear the animal in an outdoor setting and use the entirety of the carcass. "In Spain," he says, "there's almost a poetry around the killing of a pig."

Mr. Sylvestre had to look beyond the usual government sources of film financing after SODEC, the province's cultural funding body, did not award him funding for production costs, although it did give him a small grant to write the script. He secured financing from Canal D, a channel owned by Astral Media. He also received two small grants from Rogers Television and the Montreal-based Harold Greenberg Fund.

Canal D's vice-president for programming was so enthusiastic about the film that he sent a copy to Claude Chamberlan, founder of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

While filming, Mr. Sylvestre became fascinated by Mr. Laprise's obsessive attention to detail. On a trip to Hong Kong, where he cooked at an event showcasing Quebec cuisine, Mr. Laprise scoured the city looking for lumber to replicate the wooden trays he uses to serve foie gras at home.

"There is absolutely no comprising," Mr. Sylvestre explains. "They follow their own rules. It's the opposite of thinking like the masses."

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