Good evening and welcome to Montreal’s finest tables. Your server will be happy to take your order. Tonight’s specials are muskrat de Toqué!, Joe Beef beaver and finishing off we have Au Pied de Cochon squirrel.
Some of Quebec’s fine dining establishments will soon feature meats more commonly associated with bygone rural life after the province agreed to allow some of its most famous chefs to buy and sell hunted wild game.
Ten restaurants, including Normand Laprise’s Toqué! and Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon will be part of an experiment this fall to allow licensed hunters to kill certain species in the wild and sell them to the eateries.
Quebec, like most provinces, has long banned the sale of any wild meat, mainly out of concern purchases could encourage poaching. Strict limits on how game can be bought and sold are key to making a new system work, according to David McMillan, a co-owner of Joe Beef who was part of the decades-long push to loosen restrictions.
“There’s a reason all this stuff was illegal. It was because at some point in our history we overdid it. We don’t want to open up the forest so every hillbilly starts hunting again, and guys are going to pay cash for carcasses out of the back of their building. That’s not going to happen,” Mr. McMillan said.
“We need it to be as hard as possible. I want to be inspected. I want to fill out forms. I want it to be special. I want my staff to understand when we get a deer in, it’s almost a religious experience. We’re going to pay respect. It’s my province’s food.”
The initial servings are likely to include white-tailed deer and squirrel (some say it tastes like rabbit) culled from maple forests, before eventually expanding into forgotten fare like muskrat (tastes like dark turkey meat) and beaver (very fatty lamb).
Quebec is not the first place in Canada to allow the sale of wild game – Newfoundland and Nova Scotia allow it in restaurants and Nunavut has it on supermarket shelves. In Ontario, restaurants are not allowed to buy or sell it, but that doesn’t mean it’s never available.
On Monday, Toronto Chef Marc Thuet was preparing the loin of a deer he hunted himself to serve at a charity event he was catering that evening. He can get away with it, he says, because he’s giving away the meat for free.
Mr. Thuet, who grew up hunting in Alsace and learned his craft with French chefs who shot their own meat all the time, has long fought to allow Ontario chefs to do the same.
“Quebeckers are lucky people. I’m hoping you guys will show the way,” said Mr. Thuet.
But even Mr. Thuet worries about going too far to open the wild-game market, saying where there’s money, poachers will surely follow. “But you can trust those old boys over there. They will make sure it does not become a stupid thing. These guys in Quebec are true professionals,” he said.
Mr. Laprise, for his part, hopes there is a “democratization” of wild game that will allow more people to eat what’s already killed. Hunters killed 61,000 white-tailed deer, 26,000 moose and 4,350 bears in Quebec in 2013. “Seventy per cent of it goes in the garbage,” Mr. Laprise said. In addition, the maple-syrup industry kills thousands of nuisance squirrels every year.
Mr. Thuet describes hunting bear (tastes like boar) in northern Ontario and coming home with six carcasses because “the guys literally had no idea what to do with it.”
“To kill animals is sad,” said Mr. Laprise, “but to throw them in the garbage is even sadder.”
While the taste of exotic bygone fare might find a certain niche in big cities like Toronto and New York, it can only really work in Quebec, according to Mr. McMillan. In a province where beef testicles (lovingly known as amourettes), horse meat and several species of heart, kidney and liver already grace shelves of ordinary supermarkets, people are probably more likely to give beaver and muskrat a try.
“But it’s not going to become the next chicken. It’s not going to become the next steak, that’s 1,000 per cent for sure,” Mr. McMillan said.