The snow was coming down hard on the sleepy reserve, since the early morning, but Jay Gladue, executive chef of LUMAMI at Balnea, is already hard at work, preparing his well-renowned dishes. He asked if we could meet at the “Maison Bleue,” a building set a bit out of the way on the site, at just a few steps from Balnea. Although LUMAMI has a complete kitchen on the site, to meet all the chef’s ambitious cooking needs, most of the preparation work is done in this spacious kitchen.
Away from the main entrance, nestled under the trees, the blue house reigns under the clouds. Inviting aromas were luring me in as I walked across the small field towards this quaint dwelling.
Jay welcomes me, carrying a crate of big red apples shining as bright as his eyes, as he starts talking to me about his work or rather, his passion. For Jay, cooking is a true form of self-expression, a way to demonstrate one’s creativity. He explains that when he was younger, he practised many different forms of art and none has come close to the sense of accomplishment and felicity he feels when he is creating, from start to finish, these flavourful multi-textured concoctions.
In Jay’s kitchen, everybody is hard at work. A small team participates in preparing the ingredients; while one is cutting bacon into cubes to be sautéed in a big pot, another is bagging homemade marinated radishes. Jay shows me around his kitchen. As we’re ending our tour, we meet Andrea, his colleague, responsible for making bread; “They call me the bread king,” he says, laughing, while unmolding, fresh from the oven, an enormous focaccia loaf. He gives me a piece; it was even smoother and more savoury than I imagined; What a privilege, to be able to bite into such high-quality homemade products!
Inspired by his Cree roots, Jay Gladue has a deep respect for the surrounding nature and the products he uses. He appreciates how hard nature works and knows that the best things take time to make. He says that it’s important to highlight local products, to encourage the area economy and the small neighbouring farms. Therefore, the apples he uses, come from an area orchard and his vegetables, in fact, come from the small organic farm down the road. So, it’s not surprising that his dishes, as creative and artistic as can be, are all so very flavourful and appealing to the eye. In summer, we can taste the subtleness of Heirloom tomatoes, herbs and flowers. In autumn, different types of squash garnish his plates. In winter, the sweet earthy aromas of root vegetables take the spotlight. With its well-developed network of suppliers, the restaurant LUMAMI is able to offer a truly healthy cuisine as it highlights the freshness of its ingredients. Jay works along with small producers who readily offer the fruits of their labour: meat, fruits, vegetables, herbs, eggs, cheeses and so much more! It’s all good!
He then proudly shows me his personal cured meat project, he prepares and ages himself—from the fresh piece of meat he rubs in kosher salt and leaves to rest for two weeks, to the aging process itself, which he controls in a basic, but functional installation. Sausages and meat hang patiently in a small room where the humidity is at the exact level needed for the process to work. It’s a project Jay has invested himself in with great pleasure. He hopes to increase his knowledge and mastery of the art in all its forms. As we say, we can take the chef out of the kitchen, but we can’t take the kitchen out of the chef!
Jay is as amazed by everything as I am, as if he too is discovering his own universe for the first time. Preparing his raclette dish, a menu exclusively served during this period of very cold weather, he takes out squash, roasted potatoes, marinated vegetables. Finally, Jay delicately unwraps a wheel of cheese from Au Gré des Champs and says, “If I could take an enormous picture of this cheese, I would hang it in my living room and admire it every day! These aged objects, marked by time, make me very happy!” he goes on, “this! this is a real work of art!”
On my way back, the scent of the kitchen in my hair and on my clothing makes me ponder about this very inspiring encounter. I feel like creating my own things, to invest more time and give importance to local ingredients—like that big shiny red apple that Jay offered me before I left.
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