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The Curve on Maple Syrup with Culinary Director Dominic Fortin

Dominic Fortin, Culinary Director at Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro.

The Curve is a column dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees.

Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro is launching a Cabane à Sucre festival. Although the first year of the festival will be limited to a dinner series, the bigger vision is for it to expand – much like Bearfoot’s Oyster Shucking Competition, which grew from a restaurant event to the point where it’s now filling the Whistler Conference Centre every November.

We’re fully supportive of any community event that brings together good food and a bit of fun. Thus, in anticipation of the inaugural Magic of Maple: A Sugar Shack Dining Experience, happening from April 10th to April 30th at Bearfoot in partnership with the Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and Maple from Canada, we tapped into Culinary Director Dominic Fortin’s Quebecois roots by asking him to walk us through a learning curve on how to use one of Eastern Canada’s finest products: maple syrup! Because, whether you’re able to physically attend the event in Whistler or not, there’s no denying that the West Coast could benefit from a dash of Quebec’s festive seasonal spirit — even if just by osmosis. Check out Dominic’s sweet suggestions below:

BEGINNER

Photo credit: Domaine Acer.

Let’s start at the beginning: maple syrup comes from maple water. Maple water is collected directly from the trees in the springtime. It is sweet and delicate. When you taste the water, you get an introduction to the subtle, raw flavours of the tree and syrup. If you’re looking for a product to sample, I recommend trying Maple 3 – it’s a plant-based organic water beverage that comes straight from the maple forests. Made with the sap that flows within the maple trees, pumped, and filtered by the roots.

Another way to get to know maple syrup is to first taste the syrup on its own, and then integrate into very basic at-home dishes: pure maple syrup poured over vanilla ice cream or crepes, or added into your morning coffee. It is a delicious topping. If you’re looking for a good product, I recommend syrup from Domaine Acer in Quebec.  As you can see from the picture above, they produce a range of flavour profiles, from subtle to intense. The reason I love this brand is that they make maple syrups with great aromatic complexity which focus on the expression of the terroir.

INTERMEDIATE

Photo credit: Brien Maple Sweets.

Now that you have the basics under your belt, I suggest moving on to try some maple byproducts such as maple butter, maple sugar, maple vinegar, and obviously, maple taffy. Maple butter contains no butter or dairy; and maple sugar is the perfect replacement for refined sugar – it goes well in coffee or tea; whereas maple vinegars are ideal for vinaigrettes. Finally, everyone should enjoy a maple taffy, served on the snow.

I recommend trying maple butter from Les Douceurs de l’érable Brien – they produce a sweet and creamy spread made from maple syrup only. It has a butter-like texture, and is the perfect topping for bread, pancakes, and bagels. I also love the Maple Vinegar – Sweet & Sour from Cabane du PicBois.

ADVANCED

Bearfoot Bistro’s miso smoked black cod, sweetened with maple syrup and served with maple water dashi. This dish will be offered during the Magic of Maple – A Sugar Shack Dining Experience. Photo credit: Dominic Fortin.

The next step in learning how to cook with maple syrup is introducing its sweetness into savoury dishes. I recommend using maple syrup in Asian cuisine recipes to replace sugar. For example, at Bearfoot Bistro our miso smoked black cod is sweetened with maple syrup and served with a maple water dashi. You can replicate this dish at home by following the recipe directions below:

Smoked Maple & Miso Cured Black Cod with Maple Water Dashi
Serves four people

Cured Black Cod:

Red miso: 200gr
Maple sugar: 100gr
Sake: 100gr
Fresh ginger: 80gr
Black cod filets: 4 x 150gr

Method:

Combined all the ingredients of the cure and coat the fish. Keep refrigerated over night (24hrs). Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry. Smoke the fish at 200F for 15 minutes and keep cold until needed.


Maple Water Dashi:

Maple water: 1000gr
Kombu: 30gr
Dried shiitake: 15gr
Mirin: 75gr
Tamari: 25gr
Bonito flake: 5gr
Maple syrup: 30gr

Method:

Combine maple water, kombu, dried shiitake and bonito flakes. On a stove top, bring everything just below boiling point and cover with film. Let infuse for three hours. Strain and only keep the liquid. Add the rest of the ingredients to season the liquid. Keep aside until needed.


Spinach Gomae:

Spinach: 310gr
Sesame oil: 30gr
Toasted and crushed sesame seeds: 50gr
Tamari: 30gr

Method:

Blanche the spinach in hot water and cool down quickly. Squeeze the extra water. Mix all the ingredients together and keep aside until needed.


Assembly:

Roast the Black Cod in a pan and finish in the oven. Serve with the hot dashi and the spinach gomae.Complement the dish with pickled shiitake mushrooms, roasted maitake mushrooms, crispy ginger and shallots.

EXTRA CREDIT

Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack: Maple Syrup, by Martin Picard. Photo credit: Dominic Fortin.

If you want to take your understanding of maple syrup to the next level, you should definitely read the cookbook, Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack: Maple Syrup, by Quebec Chef Martin Picard, owner of Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Montreal and Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack in St-Benoit de Mirabel, Quebec. His book is more than a cookbook: in addition to the recipes, readers will learn how maple syrup is produced and will discover all about life at the sugar shack during the sugaring season. I highly recommend visiting his Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack in the spring. It is an authentic sugar shack, and it is all about sharing an abundant menu with multiple gourmet and hearty courses. [Editor’s note: this place famously books out well in advance, and the 2024 season is already fully reserved; reservations for the 2025 season open on December 1st, 2024 – mark your calendars now, maple-syrup-lovers!]

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