Sunday, July 14, 2024

Le Pied de Cochon, venerable French bistro in Hull, closing

“All the purchasers are crying. They’re saying there’s a lot tales right here.”

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Man Mervellet reckons he hasn’t taken a trip in six or seven years. He works six days every week at his restaurant, doing the sort of kitchen work that may be gruelling for cooks half his age. He’s 79 and prepared for a well-earned relaxation.

Mervellet’s final day within the kitchen is lastly coming. The French-born chef will retire after Le Pied de Cochon, his venerable bistro in Gatineau’s Hull sector, serves its final dinner on June 29.

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“I like working, what I do, however it has turn into too troublesome,” Mervellet says.

In 1976, he opened Le Pied de Cochon, which interprets to “the pig’s foot” in English. Over its 48 years, it has attracted a number of generations of consumers from prime ministers and Supreme Courtroom of Canada judges to innumerable regulars, particularly from Ottawa’s political scene.

In his time, Mervellet has cooked numerous orders of beef tartare, veal sweetbreads, rabbit terrine, Provençale rack of lamb and rognons de veau. The chef says that Jean Chrétien liked the latter dish of veal kidneys and that the previous prime minister steadfastly ordered it till he stopped coming to the restaurant after his spouse, Aline, died in 2020.

Whereas Le Pied de Cochon nonetheless has many loyal prospects, a great a lot of them are as outdated as Mervellet. In the meantime, folks’s tastes have modified over time, and COVID-19 was an ordeal for Le Pied de Cochon, which required Mervellet and his daughter to expend $300,000 to pay taxes, insurance coverage and different prices at the same time as restaurant revenues withered.

Cendrine Mervellet
Daughter Cendrine Mervellet has served prospects at Le Pied du Cochon for the previous six years. Picture by Spencer Colby /Postmedia

“We’re closing, it doesn’t work. It’s too laborious,” says Cendrine Mervellet, Man’s 51-year-old daughter, who has served prospects on the restaurant for the previous six years.

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“Everyone focuses on takeout, quick meals,” Cendrine says. “The youthful era, they like to spend $20 at McDonald’s. The standard of our meals is top-notch, however folks don’t come.”

The tally of French eating places within the Nationwide Capital Area has decreased considerably previously 25 years. In keeping with this newspaper’s 2001 eating information, there have been then 15 French and Belgian eating places. From that checklist, solely three Le Pied de Cochon, L’Orée du Bois and Signatures stay open.

Extra lately, a number of French eating places have opened in Ottawa, akin to Gitanes, Cocotte Bistro and Useless in Versailles, though they’re typically extra trendy and French-inspired than historically French.

Along with the Mervellets, Le Pied de Cochon now employs one different prepare dinner and one different server. Man Mervellet owns the constructing his restaurant occupies. The atmosphere in two eating areas that seat about 80 is true to Le Pied de Cochon’s earliest days, with plates bearing the restaurant’s title and custom-made Tiffany lamps with pigs on them each relationship again to the late Nineteen Seventies.

In 1966, Man Mervellet got here to Canada from Toulouse in southern France. He was 21 and needed to see North America, he says. He determined to remain within the Ottawa space after making pals and relationships right here, he says.

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“Et voilà.”

Earlier than he opened Le Pied de Cochon, Mervellet cooked at storied kitchens on each side of the Ottawa River, together with La Ferme Columbia and the Royal Ottawa Golf Membership on the Quebec facet, in addition to the Nationwide Arts Centre’s first fine-dining restaurant, L’Opéra.

“It was a fiasco. They tried to do the grand delicacies,” Mervellet recollects, full with basic gueridon service through which waiters working with a particular serving cart end dishes tableside, flambéing dishes, tossing salads or making ready pan sauces or boning fish. The NAC needed to reduce its L’Opéra’s employees in half when it didn’t work out, Mervellet says.

Le Pied du Cochon
An exterior photograph of Le Pied de Cochon in Gatineau. Picture by Spencer Colby /Postmedia

However after Mervellet, who calls Aylmer residence, opened Le Pied de Cochon in 1976, it was “packed, packed, packed,” he says, with prospects who appreciated his “bistro deluxe” delicacies.

Mervellet says he additionally opened L’Orée du Bois, the esteemed French restaurant in Chelsea, with its first chef-owner, Man Blain, in 1978. “At first, I labored at each, however it was an excessive amount of,” Mervellet says. Inside a yr, he stopped working at L’Orée du Bois to deal with Le Pied de Cochon.

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Anne DesBrisay, this newspaper’s former restaurant critic, reviewed Le Pied de Cochon 4 instances between 1995 and 2010. She twice spoke extremely of the restaurant’s steak tartare, writing in 2003: “There are few eating places on this area that do an honest one, and that is certainly one of them. It’s a plate of hand-minced uncooked beef, the crimson meat, enriched with capers, onion, pickles, a contact of cayenne, the flavours well-balanced and the entire impact very pleasing.”

Le Pied de Cochon was additionally within the information in 2003 when a narrative on this newspaper revealed that an govt assistant to then-heritage minister Sheila Copps dined there 65 instances over two years, spending $7,521 of taxpayers’ cash within the course of.

“Le Pied de Cochon’s clientele is made up largely of regulars, a lot of them legal professionals, judges, builders and political employees from the handfuls of federal places of work only a five-minute drive away in Place du Portage,” that story mentioned.

“A lot of the prospects appeared to know each other, transferring from desk to desk to shake arms and share jokes as they ready to return to their places of work. Every time a telephone rang throughout lunch, a dozen males patted their breast pockets searching for a cellphone,” the story mentioned.

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Restaurant employees then instructed this newspaper that many high-profile figures, together with Supreme Courtroom of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and federal court docket decide Gilles Letourneau, have been common prospects.

Le Pied du Cochon
An authentic plate of Le Pied de Cochon, which can shut on June 29 after 48 years in enterprise. Picture by Spencer Colby /Postmedia

At lunch on a Friday in June have been a number of male prospects of their 70s and early 80s who mentioned they’d been consuming at Le Pied de Cochon since its early days.

“I just like the meals,” mentioned Gilles Lauzon, 78. “I spent 10 years in Europe and I obtained used to a sure sort of meals and a sure degree of service. It’s a really authentically French restaurant.”

“It’s very unhappy,” mentioned Simon Noel, 76, who was seated at one other desk with fellow retired lawyer Robert Décary, 80. “It was once the place to be, the gathering place.”

Stated Cendrine Mervellet: “All the purchasers are crying. They’re saying there’s a lot tales right here. It’s not solely a restaurant, it’s an establishment.”

She expects the restaurant to be closely booked throughout its last week. Already Le Pied de Cochon’s final evening is near full, and one couple booked a desk for 2 for every evening earlier than the closure, she says.

Cendrine says she and her father did attempt to rent a chef to interchange him, however nobody might duplicate how he cooks, which is what prospects need. “They don’t wish to prepare dinner like that … they’re extra fusion,” she says.

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Each she and her father say they’re blissful to be closing Le Pied de Cochon.

“He needs to be retired already,” says Cendrine, who provides she is going to discover work elsewhere.

Requested what he’ll do in July and August, along with his life’s work ultimately behind him, Man Mervellet solutions with a single phrase: “Chill out.”

***

In 1988, in response to a reader’s request, Mervellet shared this recipe with this newspaper.

Rabbit with White Wine Sauce
Makes: 3 to 4 servings

1 3-pound rabbit, reduce into 6 items (2 thighs, 2 legs, saddle and breast)

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 or 2 cooking onions, finely chopped

4 or 5 complete shallots, peeled

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup dry white wine

Hen inventory

Salt and pepper to style

Bouquet garni (sprigs savory, thyme and bay leaf)

2 tablespoons heavy cream (non-compulsory)

In a sauté pan or Dutch oven, sauté the rabbit within the oil and butter till the items are browned. Pour off the fats.

Add the thinly chopped onions, the entire shallots and saute for about 2 minutes, or till the greens are translucent. Sprinkle with the flour and simmer one other 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring, and add sufficient rooster inventory to only cowl the rabbit. Season with salt and pepper and add the bouquet garni. Carry to a boil, cowl, and simmer — or prepare dinner in a 350 F oven — for about 45 minutes, or till rabbit is tender.

When finished, take away rabbit and drain.

Over medium warmth, scale back sauce till thickened. Add the cream, stirring, and simmer briefly. Pour over rabbit and serve with noodles, carrots and inexperienced greens.

phum@postmedia.com

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