Arnaud Marchand: Passionate about local products

Arnaud Marchand chef restaurant Chez Boulay Quebec

Arnaud Marchand: Did you know that our great chefs often use maple syrup all year round? In fact, in an effort to stay local and use the extraordinary products from Quebec, all while respecting the environment, maple syrup often replaces sugar at our great tables. Here is a series of profiles of the great culinary ambassadors of L’Érable du Québec

Arnaud Marchand is the chef and co-owner of the Chez Boulay restaurant and the Boulay counters. Originally from France, the talented young chef has been bringing the best of Quebec to his plates since 2009.

Originally from the town of Chalmazel in central France, Arnaud didn’t always know he would be a chef. But in the rural environment where he grew up, cooking takes up a very important place. “Even though no one was in the restaurant industry, there was a very strong culinary culture in our home. My parents instilled this culture in me. My grandfather had a farm, and we also had chickens, rabbits, etc. at home. Plus, my father was also a hunter, we always made our terrines with venison, hare, or other; we also made our charcuterie. I also loved to watch my mother cook. One day, I decided to try it.”

Introduction to restaurants

Arnaud knew that the field would be difficult, but he felt ready, even though his path would be winding. As a teenager, he was searching for his own path. He finished his BEP in France and also worked a little in carpentry and blacksmithing with his father. For four years, he did several internships in the restaurant industry, “but I didn’t like it at all. I found that the trainees were used more as free labourers. I was about to leave the business when I got an internship with a former chef who worked at Troisgros: Alain Beaudoux. He changed my view of the restaurant industry; something sparked in me, I began to get chills — I started to freak out!” While his experience in Beaudoux’s kitchen was very difficult, Arnaud loved it. There, everything was homemade, and he learned to make everything: puff pastry, brioche, foie gras, etc. “I loved it!” He also had the chance to dabble in fine dining and collaborated with various starred chefs in prestigious establishments.

From France to Quebec

In 2009, Arnaud moved to Quebec City. Why Quebec? “My wife is from Quebec!” The first thing that stood out for him is the quality of life of Quebecers; the city-country relationship. “Quebec City is a big village; in 20 minutes, you can be in a park, skiing, mountain biking. We’re really spoiled for quality of life.”

Arnaud is a passionate young chef and a determined entrepreneur. He started at the restaurant l’Initiale and stayed there for a while. “I had just arrived from France, so it was a period of adaptation: a new way of working, new products to discover. Yvan Lebrun was in the kitchen. I really liked the team spirit that was there. They are very good cooks, with a sophisticated menu. I loved working in this kitchen. The chef was very demanding, but we learned a lot from him.”

Next, Arnaud worked at the Château Bonne Entente and discovered a unionized environment. “It was very special; in highly unionized places, personal comfort is more important than the advancement of the company; I met some great people there. That’s also where I learned the most about management, structure, etc. However, it was not an environment where I saw myself growing and developing.”

Afterwards, he returned to France to settle some papers, before quickly returning to settle back here for good. “In Quebec, the quality of life is much better, it’s not comparable.

He then worked at the Baie de Beauport. There, he helped develop the catering service and organize events. “It was my first chef position! I’ve had several sous chef positions, but here I was on my own. The structure was pretty tough, but I learned a lot. We had a lot of events and very intense periods, followed by very quiet periods. I learned about personnel management and its constraints. I loved the creative aspect of the address. Nothing was monotonous there; I loved structuring and rethinking everything! Plus, I was able to organize meals for world-class events like the mountain bike championship.”

Les Chefs!

In 2010, he participated in the famous show Les Chefs! and made it to the finals. That’s where he met Jean-Luc Boulay. “It took a year and a half before he asked me to work with him. He asked me if I wanted to start Chez Boulay with him and I refused several times. (Laughs.) Why start from a place where you’re good? I didn’t really know what he was looking for either; I didn’t want to be Jean-Luc’s sous-chef, I wanted to be a chef. In the end, I accepted and we really have the same vision. And it’s going great; it’s really an extraordinary partnership that we have. We’re people who share, we’re adventurers, and we’re passionate, so it’s really fun!

At Chez Boulay, Arnaud became a co-owner. There, the duo decided to venture forth with a boreal cuisine. Boreal cuisine offers a unique rediscovery of regional products, all while keeping with the seasons. How can you replace spices with things that are 100% local? “I think we have succeeded with Fabien Girard of Gourmet Sauvage, with Morilles Québec, etc. For the next few years, I hope we can continue to showcase local products with the work of my entire team.”

Comptoir Boréal

Arnaud is also co-owner of two Comptoir Boréal’s. A cozy and warm place, Comptoir Boréal is very popular with its pastries, sandwiches, take-out, and small boutique showcasing local products. “We created the counters so that everyone would feel involved and want to grow in the business. We wanted people to be happy to work with us, and we wanted an environment and a clear corporate vision. The chain is very short in terms of what we buy; we have a strong environmental side. We have strong beliefs. We meet the people who produce what is the basis of our plates.”

Why open counters? The goal of the counters was for people to have access to boreal flavours in one bite, so they could take them home. “It’s cool that people can bring our products home to taste! It’s a form of outreach education; people can invite friends over and showcase our homegrown products, such as our maple dune pepper cabbage.” The counters’ signature desserts? The sea buckthorn meringue pie, the maple and dune pepper cabbage, and the flowing heart chocolate with blackcurrant and haskap berry.

With these counters, Arnaud is rediscovering maple. “I had never worked with maple in France. I had a friend whose parents loved Quebec and who often brought it back. But to be honest, I didn’t like it at first. Finally, here, I learned to work with it and with the different syrups. I would never have been able to get to certain tastes with other flavours. Now I love working with maple, and we are working more and more with the product. Especially with the pastries at the counter. We put the product forward. The importance of growing, the balance between acidity and sweetness. Now, I really like maple.”

Being a chef

“What I love about being a chef is being a positive leader. I think that to bring a team to a certain point, you have to be a good leader. You always have to challenge yourself. I love setting the pace; I often compare it to being a chef.”

“I love being a chef because it’s an exciting job! It’s not repetitive, it’s very creative, very human. There is an important relationship with the producers (as long as you want it). It requires a lot of energy, a lot of work, but you live emotions in this job! It’s very creative and it leaves a potential for the future. Contrary to what you may hear at the moment, I think that at the beginning there must be an investment in learning, but if you go to the right places to learn, and learn from the best, you can then build a life with a good salary. I love the creative aspect, the meetings, and the constant evolution that is key to the business.”

A few questions

  • How do you take your coffee? “Decaf — latte.”
  • What is your favourite vegetable? “Asparagus from Québec.”
  • What is your favourite meat? “Pigeon.”
  • What is your favourite fish? “John Dory.”
  • If you could eat anywhere tonight in Quebec City, where would you go? “L’Initiale or Saint-Amour.”
  • Where would you go on a trip tonight? “New Zealand.”
  • Where would you live anywhere in the world? “Quebec City.”
  • What would you do if you were not a chef? “Carpenter or cabinetmaker.”
  • Are you more beer, wine, or cocktail? “Depends on the evening. Beer or wine — red wine.”
  • What is the best cuisine? “The real thing, without fuss.”

A few questions on maple

  • What do you love about maple? “Its complexity of flavours. Through the varieties of syrups, the colours, there is an incredible variety of flavours that develop!”
  • What is your favourite maple product? “I don’t know if I love maple in more classic treats — for example, I’m crazy about maple custard — or in savoury — I like to use it in sweet and sour, I love maple for its perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.”
  • The maple dish he’s most proud of? “Our maple dune pepper cabbage, for sure.”

Photography by Chez Boulay

From the magazine