(Trois-Rivières) This was somewhat to be expected. We asked chef Samy Benabed if his mother, with whom he had just had a Moroccan “family dinner” at Auberge Saint-Mathieu, would cook a simple tagine for us. When she opened the door to her apartment, we were greeted by a traditional table overflowing with delicacies. The centerpiece was still simmering on the stove.
“I really like people. I’m a generous woman,” says the energetic mother of four grown children, as if we hadn’t already noticed. The work that Amina practices today reconfirms this. She supports elderly people in their daily lives. One of them is “contemptuous” about her Moroccan cuisine, the head of the family tells us, completely invested in her work since her return from Morocco, where she let the pandemic pass.
It’s because the valiant has a project. She bought land in Tiflet, not far from her hometown of Salé, Morocco. She will build a house there that will accommodate the whole family and will plant a nourishing garden. In the meantime, she works and saves money to afford a comfortable retirement.
The same goes for her ex-husband, father of Samy, who has resumed his delivery shifts at Ti-Coq. Despite his degree in administration from the University of Trois-Rivières, Aziz Benabed has never managed to get hired in his field. For several years, he has worked during the beautiful Quebec season and spent his winters in Morocco.
Fortunately, in 2023, Samy Benabed lives a different reality than that of his parents. Certainly, as a child, he was not completely spared from racism, but today, the rising star is carving out a very good place for himself in the local gastronomic space, and even internationally.
Samy is very obviously a free electron. His fragmented journey has sowed many surprises. His mother saw him becoming a doctor when he did his CEGEP in biomedical analysis technology in Shawinigan. Then we imagined him as a great thinker while he studied philosophy at UQAM.
But it was in the kitchen of Samuel Pinard, in the late Dining Room, that he found his place. Then his passion for exceptional products “worsened” during the three years he spent alongside Marc-Alexandre Mercier, at the Hôtel Herman, another beautiful restaurant from which Montreal is still mourning.
Inhabited by imposter syndrome, the young man registered with the Institute of Tourism and Hospitality of Quebec (ITHQ). “I did a session and a half, but I wasn’t really learning,” regrets Samy. They thought I was arrogant because I didn’t show up for all my classes. But I just wanted to learn. So I left. The irony is that the following year, they called me to give workshops in higher education. »
Second irony, when we join him at his mother’s house in Trois-Rivières, the chef has just returned from the ITHQ, where he has concocted a menu on the theme of Mauricie forest products. Samy clearly does not hold grudges, even if he never fails to highlight the contradictions in our institutions.
“Then all the fundamental questions that interest me are part of it: the ethics of relationships with colleagues and employees, the relationship with the product, the countless ways of doing things,” he adds. At the Auberge, we always question everything. »
It is with his childhood friend Nicholas Trottier-Lacourse, son of the former owners, Louise Trottier and Jean-Marcel Lacourse, and two other partners that the chef recently bought Auberge Saint-Mathieu. Florent Borrel is a former customer, a great cheese connoisseur, now responsible for the Comptoir de l’auberge where they serve simple cuisine and wine. Étienne Prud’homme, who worked in the Joe Beef group and at the now defunct Pastel, is maître d’hôtel and responsible for the wine list. In the dining room and in the kitchen, the staff are dapper and passionate in their early twenties.
The Auberge illustrates well what makes Quebec gastronomy unique. It is often practiced without fuss, in the most unexpected places, like this rustic building on the lake, which has no ambition to become a Relais et Château or a Michelin-starred restaurant, even if its cuisine is completely up to par. the height. The place is dynamic. The team regularly organizes one-night dinners with friendly restaurants and even with the chef’s parents!
“The business plan includes several stages that we take at our own pace,” explains the man who began to tame the premises in the summer of 2020, but only took possession and launched the renovations in January 2023. For now , the value for money is unbeatable. It’s possible to get a room and an eight-course gourmet meal for two for about $400, before wine and tip.
Samy Benabed practices very aesthetic and careful cuisine, in the Nordic vein which he was imbued with during his internship at Relae in Copenhagen (closed in 2020) and while working at Mousso. But the chef’s creations aren’t just pretty. They are infused with emotion, sincerity and a certain taste nostalgia.
In the menu that we had the pleasure of tasting, there was among others a vol-au-vent unrecognizable to the eye, but impeccably familiar to the taste buds. One of the two desserts was a divine reference to the PB sandwich
“Little anecdote: before the French protectorate, Moroccans did not really have a last name. But from 1950, they were obliged to register one and my great-grandfather, not really knowing what to enter in his civil status certificate, chose the name of his favorite dish, khoubiza. So that’s my mother’s last name! »
During our visit, Amina obviously does not fail to prepare a khoubiza as a starter. “We eat it with bread, without utensils,” she insists when she sees us lift a fork. The same goes for the delicious taktouka (another cooked salad, this time made with tomatoes and peppers).
After the exquisite tagine, we are unfortunately in a hurry to return to Montreal, to take care of our own families. Amina therefore insists on filling my thermos with mint tea and wrapping a small square of cake for the photographer. On the doorstep, she puts a box of very soft dates in my arms. If that’s not a great comfort, that!