We Ask Michelin-Starred Chef Christophe Dufau for Tips on How to Shop and Eat Local
“I’m not allowed to get jet lagged,” Michelin-starred chef Christophe Dufau says with a laugh when I note the considerable time difference between Toronto and Provence, France. The man behind the revered Les Bacchanales restaurant had arrived from Europe at 10pm the night before and was now preparing a five course lunch for me and around 30 other people. Plates arrived holding oysters, lobster, halibut, ash-coated smoked cheese and even a desert incorporating–of course–maple syrup.
It was Dufau’s first time in Toronto and the lunch was in collaboration with Grey Goose Vodka to promote the brand’s summer marché. The summer market featured products inspired by Dufau’s home, the Cote D’Azur. Stalls selling baguettes, preserves, and bouquets of fresh cut flowers were scattered around the little fenced-in garden of Campbell House Museum; a leafy spot of paradise in an otherwise concrete landscape. Underneath a display of navy blue and white parasols, you could almost forgot for a moment that Toronto’s coastline was hugging Lake Ontario and not the Mediterranean Sea.
For Dufau, a collaboration with a pop-up marketplace seemed the perfect fit. His restaurant Les Bacchanales sources all of their products within a 250km radius. He says sourcing local is a fantastic option for Canadians, but at the same time marvels at the expansive country. “If I was in Canada I’d say maybe 2,500km instead of 250km,” he says with a laugh, noting that the oysters he’s prepared come from the West coast all the way to the East. Dufau will continue cooking in three other Canadian cities: Vancouver, Calgary and Montréal.
After five perfect courses of seasonally fresh food (each paired with a unique Grey Goose beverage–It’s 5’oclock somewhere), I’m ready to get into this whole market thing. Here are a few tips for your next local shopping trip, straight from Dufau himself.
Ingredients that are in season together, combine the best
At Les Bacchanales, Dufau doesn’t have a set menu. In fact, he rewrites it every week. All of his changes are based around what’s in season at the local markets. This constant switch-up of dishes could seem overwhelming, but for Dufau there is a simple formula to remember. Food that is in season together will mix well. “If you’re only using seasonal produce, they always work together. If you’re using beetroot with green almonds, for example, it does work, of course, but this is not the best combination,” the chef says. “Zucchini–the fresh zucchini with the flowers–and the green almonds are in season at the same time and they really work together.”
I also asked Dufau for a little mini-guide of what he likes to cook with most each season. He explained that if you’re currently shopping the market, lean towards zucchini and eggplant. Tomatoes will be best at the end of August. In the fall, shop for pumpkin, pomegranate and wild mushrooms. He mentions that you shouldn’t forget about the green tomatoes. In the winter, he says to focus on root vegetables and for spring, think fresh asparagus and green peas.
Get to know the vendors at the market
For Dufau, the market is not just a location to buy food, it’s a place to build connections. “I have four different markets that I go to back home. People know me. I have good communication with all of the sellers and this is very important to me,” he says. “I take time when I go and see them. I drink coffee with them, I talk about maybe ordering something for next week. I ask, what are you doing at the moment? Can I see? Can I have it next week? This is very important.”
Ask vendors how to best use their products
If you are intimidated by markets, or want to try out new produce but are unsure of what to do with it, don’t be afraid to ask the vendors. “They always tell you, oh, well you have to sautee them, or you must scoop them in water or… they will tell you,” says Dufau. “This is the best way to do it. For sure.”
Don’t have tunnel vision
It’s something everybody does to avoid getting overwhelmed (including me). I often have tunnel vision with my organized grocery lists, but Dufau says his biggest and most important tip is to shop in the moment. “If you read a recipe book before you’re going to bed and you find a dish you want to make and it says you need a tomato, then you’re going to the market to find that tomato. You focus only on the tomato and you don’t see the artichokes, the zucchini… Of course you make a list when you go to the market for basic products like onions and garlic and maybe fresh herbs, but you have to also let it go,” he says. “Look around, say ahh, that’s beautiful, I’m going to use it.”