Quebec City Quebec

Meeting Anthony Bourdain… kinda, in Quebec City

Melanie Chambers

I’ve been to Kapuskasing, Twillingate, Haida Gwaii, Elliot Lake, Thunder Bay, Dawson Creek, Edson, but never, ever, Quebec City.

It’s like eating rattlesnake, but never pizza. Everyone’s been to Quebec City.

So when my partner and I planned a thanksgiving road trip from hometown Toronto to Nova Scotia to see family, Quebec was necessary. Mandatory.

As I often do with my trips, I began researching for ideas of places to see and things to do. I read some Lonely Planet recommendations, a few BBC articles, and then, the ultimate endorsement: Anthony Bourdain’s. This hard talking New York celebrity chef was my hero-- he had eaten in Quebec City, and raved about it. Months earlier, Bourdain, who struggled with mental health most of his life, finally succumbed to the darkness and killed himself. As a food writer and instructor, I have read Bourdain’s epic restaurant industry tell-all memoir almost a dozen times.

I anxiously reread Kitchen Confidential every year to refresh my memory and say hello to my old friend. I cried the morning he killed himself.

When my partner Paul and I began walking the streets on our first day, I stopped cold. ‘I think this is the hood where Bourdain ate, and I think this restaurant is the place.” The door, a crappy piece of unpainted plyboard, was decorated with only a Heinz ketchup bottle and the words, L’Affair de Ketchup. I walked in, not even asking Paul if he wanted to eat here, and made reservations.

After buying a vintage beaded flapper dress, we returned to the restaurant. Inside, no bigger than my Toronto home kitchen, maybe six tables, the place was full. “I guess we’re at the bar,” I said, which is actually my favourite place to eat in a restaurant--- and in this case, more so: behind the bar was the kitchen and the chef. It’s closer to the action. Sipping a martini and exchanging yarns with the chef whose cooking on a beige retro stove (nothing fancy here), we dive into fois gras (unethical engorged duck livers)—but also one of Bourdain’s favourites.

“You’re sitting in the chair where he sat,” says the chef to me. “Bourdain sat here?” It might have been the martini, or the ambiance, or even the fois gras, but I felt moved by this. What Bourdain saw in this restaurant, its food, and this city, I was seeing it. Having travelled the globe, Bourdain knew cool when he saw it. And now, so was I.