You were using seasonal ingredients long before 'farm-to-fork' was a buzz phrase in the world of haute cuisine. How deep are your roots in that philosophy? 'I grew up on a farm. Forty years ago in rural Quebec, Canada, there was no such thing as a supermarket, so I'm used to preserving and storing things for the winter months. We canned green beans, beets, turnips - everything that grew on our land. At 17, I went to cooking school in Quebec City, but I didn't enjoy it; there was too much defrosting of products involved. I worked for a lot of French chefs after that and, again, they would always import all of their ingredients. I never got that. There was all this beautiful, fresh local produce and seafood. That's when I started to realise the importance of going to the producers and building a relationship, learning about the possibilities of our native land. Talking to them can bring you what you need.'
What is quintessential Quebecois cuisine all about? 'Canada is large and each province has its own cultural roots. For me, Quebec is the most different because it's more Latin, more worldly. The eating culture is more European in its conviviality; people come and sit down for four-hour meals. It's a young country at less than 400 years, but now we are starting to build our savoir faire, our own identity.
'Right now it's the season of the 'sugar shacks'. In the spring, the tree defrosts its sap and we tap and collect that and make maple syrup. Every weekend, there's a party at your neighbourhood sugar shack, which usually involves eating a whole pig, using everything - the feet for a ragu, the face for terrines. That's very Quebecois.'
What defines the Toque! philosophy? 'We have a motto in my kitchen, 'cooking from scraps', which is about being respectful, creative and sensible [with] the ingredients, to use every part, even the trimmings. Ingredients and the people behind them are very important to me. I know all the people who grow the vegetables and raise the animals for the meat that I use in my kitchen. I never buy from distributors. Through my relationship with the producers, I know what the animals are fed, how they grow. I like to be confident about what I'm using and I think the benefits extend to my diners as well.'
What are the best bits about being a guest chef? 'I enjoy travelling and being a guest chef about two or three times a year. I've been to Thailand, France, the United States - everywhere. This is my third time in Hong Kong. It's a nice change from being in your own kitchen - the only responsibility you have as a guest chef is to your food. It's a break from daily operations such as hiring and firing, fixing broken ovens, budgets. You just come in, make a mess and leave.
'I learn a lot on my travels as well. I will bring some ingredients native to Quebec, but I don't bring everything. I like to see what's happening locally. I go to the street markets to buy elements to adapt into my menu.'
What ingredients are you currently exploring? 'Cooking with 'white' ingredients is the trend now, but I've been using white sorrel and white ginger for 15 years. I've been playing with pine shoots and pine sap, which can go really well with citrus desserts as a syrup. In Hong Kong, I've found a few interesting kinds of produce at the markets. On the Hong Kong menu, the garnish in the monkfish liver mousse dish includes mung bean sprouts, which I like for their fresh, watery crunch. It lightens the fattiness of the liver mousse. [For a] veal dish, I found Chinese mulberries in season. I sauteed them in smoked pork fat and served them in beet- root sauce.'