MONTREAL – If you’ve ever been to La Belle Province, chances are you’ve dug into a messy heap of fries, cheese curds and sauce — the Quebec culinary delight called poutine.
But no one makes it quite like they do in Drummondville, Que., considered the birthplace of the concoction about four decades ago and home to Quebec’s only Festival de la Poutine.
The dish has changed considerably in recent years with everyone adding their own twist, but if you’ve ever wanted to dig into authentic poutine and catch some great live Quebec bands, the two-day event taking place on Labour Day weekend is the place to be.
“That (region) is the ground zero of poutine, if you want to eat it the way it was originally made, that’s the place to go,” says Bob Rutledge, a professor of astrophysics at McGill University and California native who fell in love with the Quebec dish upon moving here.
Rutledge, who runs the website montrealpoutine.com, says one reason to go to Drummondville is for the one-of-a-kind poutine sauce originating from the region.
“The sauces that appear to have been invented in that area are not what you find in say Montreal or Quebec City,” said Rutledge.
Restaurants in the Drummondville region traditionally add a tomato puree to their sauce that makes it sweeter and gives it a distinctive taste over the Montreal variation made with a dark-brown, often chicken-based gravy.
That sauce — an aurora sauce — isn’t used anywhere else and often catches people from outside the region by surprise.
“It brightens it and it causes it to be somewhat sweeter and it’s a very particular taste and a very particular flavour,” Rutledge says.
“It is the authentic and original sauce where poutine was created, and so for historical reasons I think it’s great to go and taste it.”
Drummondville, a city of 67,000 located about an hour outside of Montreal, is generally regarded as the birthplace of poutine. That’s where the late Jean-Paul Roy, owner of Le Roy Jucep, claimed to have invented the dish in 1964.
That has been disputed by other restaurants that claim to be the original poutineries.
The working-class dish took about 30 years to cement itself outside the region. But now you can find it all over the place, a part of haute cuisine in places like New York City, Seattle and Southern California, with chefs adding their own twists.
One of those chefs, Martin Picard, the popular Montreal chef behind the restaurant Au Pied du Cochon and co-host of “The Wild Chef,” on The Food Network, is this year’s guest chef.
“That’s really cool since he’s one of the biggest chefs in Quebec and Canada,” said Alexandre Parr, one of the event organizers.
“He’s well known for his foie gras poutine so this year we’ve been able to get him and he’ll be showing off his (different) poutines for the festivalgoers.”
Picard is credited with taking poutine from its working class roots and taking it up a notch with the addition of foie gras. He has said he has a few other sauces he expects will be popular.
“I’m of the opinion that you could put foie gras on anything, and it’s fantastic but what’s special about the Au Pied sauce is they actually incorporate the foie gras into the sauce,” Rutledge said.
“It gives it this very deep, rich, creamy flavour you don’t get in most poutine sauces.”
It was members of Les Trois Accords, a popular Quebec band, who came up with the idea to launch the festival while on tour.
“We’ve done every festival in Quebec and thought it would be really fun to organize one around poutine in Drummondville,” said Parr, a member of the band.
Organizers say they’ve resolved issues that plagued the festival in its first years due to an unprecedented attendance: 26,000 people in the first two years led to long lineups for tickets and poutine.
Music remains a major draw: popular Quebec acts including Les Cowboys Frignants are among the headliners this year. Les Trois Accords will also play in the festival they founded for the first time.
“I’d say poutine is a big part, but music is taking up more and more place,” Parr said.
But the bands have something in common too: they’re all crazy about poutine.
“Come for the poutine, stay for the music,” Parr says.