Michel Barrette doesn’t beat around the ketchup pot: he proudly claims his nostalgia for the Christmases of yesteryear, with its huge tables, its lights and its photos, all celebrated under the starry sky of Chicoutimi. “For me, Christmas is the big families gathered together, the decorated tree, the gifts that we shuffled around for weeks to guess what they contain, the monuncles that leave a little warm at midnight mass, drunk Monique giving in to her exhibitionist tendencies, my grandmother becoming emotional at being so well surrounded. It’s like a Christmas movie that’s good for the soul. Without forgetting my uncle Paulo dressed as Santa Claus, the youngest pretending not to recognize him, even though he smelled of drink in your mouth! », lists the artist in bulk.

And if there is one scent capable of catapulting him into the 1950s, it is undoubtedly the one that perfumed the household for hours, a true regional jewel of Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. And no, it’s not turkey time.

“It’s not only that of my grandmother, but that of our grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers and fathers…” underlines Michel Barrette, who loves the collective dimension of this heritage. “I don’t think many ladies do this alone, it’s still laborious, you have to buy the meats – beef, veal, pork –, cut them, let them marinate, the potato squares have to be a size precise, neither too big nor too small, prepare the dough, etc. », he says. In his family, his father took care of the meat, while his mother worked on the potatoes, before both began preparing the puff pastry, together.

Long hours of preparation which result in perfumes forever engraved in the olfactory and taste memories of young and old alike. “This smell immediately triggers a million images,” he assures. This nostalgic-gastronomic pride, claimed loudly, the man has chosen to spread it beyond an already large family circle. In collaboration with a company in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, he became the standard bearer for a large-scale marketed tourtière.

Our “Hi!” Ha! Tremblay” came in person to introduce us to the plump beast, which received the seal of his approval. And yet, just like his grandfather Jean-Marie, God knows he has an eye for detail. Just by leaning over the dish, something seems to be niggling at it.

“If my mother had made it, you would have seen a fork mark in the center. She would get up in the middle of the night, two hours before the end of cooking, to make a hole in it, ensure that it was not dry and add, if necessary, water or beef broth. he remembers. Apart from this missing stigma, the aromas still call to mind the tourtières of yesteryear.

“When the pie came out of the oven, we would taste it, and my mother always waited for the first comment, because there was always the fear of missing it. It sounds a bit 1950s, but that was my dad giving the approval. He said: “In any case, your pie is good”, even though he had prepared it as much as she had, and if it was a failure, that meant it was also his failure! “, he said, laughing.

Fortunately, year after year, the traditional dish was consistently up to par. Except once. After biting into grandmother Asselin’s tourtière, the enthusiasm of the table of tasters immediately turned into crestfallen expressions. Grandma not receiving the usual praise, the eldest served herself a piece… only to spit it out immediately! “Everyone turned to my uncle Yvan the innocent, the awkward one of the Asselin family, because he looked so much like him. The day before, he had swapped the sugar and salt in the jars, thinking he was being funny. He scrapped Christmas! We made a pie again, but in the meantime, they tied Yvan up with rope, like the bard in Asterix, during the banquets! », jokes Barrette.

Another lèse-majesté crime to be avoided under penalty of triggering the wrath of the family cooks: opening the refrigerator to grab a pot of industrial ketchup. “You get chard, pickles and even homemade ketchup; That’s okay, because you made the effort. But if you take commercial ketchup, it’s the ultimate insult to my grandmother and those who worked hard for the pie. You’re going to end up in the snowbank,” he warns.

In recent years, Michel Barrette and his partner have spent Christmas far from Saguenay, treating themselves to sun, sand and mild temperatures. However, in this idyllic Californian picture, there remained a snag. “There we were, with our beautiful rented house, the blue sky of Palm Springs, the swimming pool and the palm trees in just the right place. But one thing was missing. My girlfriend asked me: “Are you thinking the same thing as me?” I looked back at her and immediately replied: “A tourtière!” »

Rushing off to the butcher, the couple demanding the meats and cuts they needed – faced with a slightly intrigued shopkeeper, the word tourtière having obviously never been part of his vocabulary. And there they are, sitting at the kitchen counter, making the missing piece of their holiday happiness. “We thought it was funny to be in California and that it smelled like Grandma’s house. But this year I’ll be home! », he promises.