Chef Tristan Foucault turns trash to culinary treasure at Peasant Cookery
By Erin Bend
“You are a cook,” decried a manager at The Keg as he grabbed a 15-year-old busboy by the scruff of his shirt and walked him into the kitchen. This proclamation was in response to overhearing a sharp-tongued remark Tristan Foucault uttered to a diner who had mistaken the long-haired teen for a girl.
This stormy blue-eyed 37-year-old has a passion for food nurtured by his never-cook-the-same-thing-twice mother. Although he worked in various kitchens throughout school, it wasn’t until he completed an undergrad degree in criminology and was toying with the prospect of law school that a career in cooking became an option.
In 2000, Foucault went west to Vancouver’s Dubrulle International Culinary & Hotel Institute of Canada to get schooled in the fundamentals of classic French cooking. There, he worked at the Four Seasons and Le Crocodile. Upon his return in 2002, the keen chef took a job at Green Gates, where he formed a professional relationship with WOW! Hospitality’s Doug Stephen. Stephen encouraged Foucault to open Hu’s on First in 2003, dangling a carrot of one day running a French restaurant. Foucault is proud of those early days at Hu’s, “We made Asian food as the French would, all scratch stocks and sauces.”
In March 2007, the ambitious chef got his carrot. Oui Bistro, WOW! Hospitality’s first French concept, opened with Foucault in charge. After three years, the stuffy white table linens were stripped off and the newly branded Peasant Cookery opened. The country-casual ambiance cues diners in to what they can expect—romantic, scratch-made food. Rows of mason jars filled with pickles and preserves line its window ledges, acting as a symbol of this philosophy.
While the language and manner servers use to interact with guests became more casual at Peasant, the attentive level of service and deep menu knowledge of staff was upheld. Now the restaurant enjoys status as the most successful WOW! Hospitality concept, subsequent to the eternally excellent 529 Wellington.
From breads baked with nurtured starters to the more than 2,000 pounds of pickles, green beans, asparagus and gooseberries being preserved during Ciao!’s visit, everything on the plate, save for ketchup, is created on the premises.
When asked of his stance on vegetarianism, the chef snorts and offers, “My girlfriend lasted three weeks with me before caving over flank steak in red wine marinade.” The self-taught butcher always offers a meatless meal on his menu, but his passion staunchly lies with proteins, particularly pigs. Subscribing to the school of nose-to-tail eating—a holistic approach that utilizes generally undesirable parts of the animal—could be considered a food philosophy more similar to vegetarianism than to today’s mainstream diet. The animal is respected, and with seasoned techniques of brining, salting, pickling, preserving and rendering, little becomes waste.
Foucault’s and Peasant’s approach are one and the same, the restaurant challenges itself to transform animal parts that would be discarded into a dish diners eagerly shell out to tuck into. For instance, Foucault has a fisherman reserve pectoral fins that typically get binned, to turn into a phenomenal ‘pickerel wing’ starter. Tender morsels of flesh still attached to the fin are battered, fried golden and served with harrissa cream and lime aïoli.
Often great ingredients lead chefs to compose a new dish, and for Foucault’s fish offerings the season dictates the ingredient. As one of the first Winnipeg restaurants to adopt an Ocean Wise doctrine, Foucault buys the freshest fish running directly from northern Manitoba for its unblemished environment and unadulterated flavour.
Quite often a dish will be based on a French classic, and aim to answer the question, “How can we make this better? Even our bourguignon is an old classic dish, but it gets brined and sous vide for 72 hours,” says Foucault.
Straddling two worlds, the brazen chef utilizes traditional techniques and age-old recipes, but when pressed to name his preferred piece of kitchen equipment gushes over the consistent temperature control of the immersion circulator. “How else can you achieve dozens of perfectly cooked steaks over a dinner service?”
This modern, scientific approach is how he leads his own kitchen, constantly encouraging the members of his brigade to refine the food. They take it to the next level within the enduring parameters of French culinary tradition. This combination of old and new creates something better that could be the future of food.