It’s pâté time Savoury local spread infused with generations of family tradition
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The owner of a Winnipeg shop that carries a wide selection of locally made foodstuffs posed a question on social media recently, asking how people enjoy pâté, a delicacy with French roots that has reportedly been around since the Middle Ages. The query was inspired by Frères Jacques, a St. Vital-based venture that turns out two flavours of the savoury spread, both of which the store stocks.
The most intriguing response came from a person who likes to partner their pâté with bologna, cucumber, radish, carrots, cilantro and mayo, and tuck the lot inside a freshly baked baguette to create a banh mi of sorts.
That definitely sounds appetizing, says Frères Jacques’s founder Larry Jacques, but if you’re seeking his opinion, pâté goes best on charcuterie boards, which became all the rage at the height of the pandemic. When it’s hot and humid outside and nobody is in the mood to cook, a platter laden with cheese, fruit, crackers and a whack of pâté is just what the doctor ordered, contends the director-of-sales-turned entrepreneur.
You won’t find it on the list of ingredients, but in addition to pork loin, garlic, pepper and parsley, Jacques’s signature variety, called Tony’s Pâté for his late father, also contains a heaping helping of nostalgia.
Jacques, one of eight siblings, seven of them brothers, says his Quebec-born father wasn’t a gourmet chef, not even close. If there was one dish he was adept at, mind you, it was pâté made from scratch, using a recipe developed by his own father, Jacques’ grandfather, decades earlier.
“Dad, who passed away in 1989 at the age of 65, used to make (pâté) for company and special occasions, and I remember people bugging him, saying, ‘Tony, this so good, you should be selling it in stores,’” says Jacques, who was born in Lorette and grew up in Windsor Park. “Except with eight mouths to feed, it wasn’t like he could afford to do the necessary marketing and stuff. He would just say thanks, and that he was glad they liked it.”
Jacques guesses it was around 15 years ago when he first considered introducing the rest of the world to his dad’s beloved pâté. He was living and working in Calgary at the time, and after preparing batch after batch to ensure it compared favourably to what he’d grown up consuming, he did some poking around to determine if there was any interest in what he’d arrived at. There was little to none, which he attributed to what he feels was a lack of French culture in the Alberta city, so he parked his plan.
In 2018, by which time he and his wife had returned to Winnipeg, Jacques decided to revisit the idea. He spent till the end of that year determining what would be required in terms of packaging and labelling. Next, after registering his more-than-fitting business name, he set about promoting Frères Jacques the old-fashioned way, by showing up at a retailer’s front door and stating, “Here’s what I’m selling, I think you’re going to like it.”
Local Meats and Frozen Treats on St. Anne’s Road was the first store in the city to carry Tony’s Pâté, quickly followed by Fromagerie Bothwell, at 136 Provencher Blvd., which opened in the spring of 2019.
“I believe it was Larry’s wife who came into the store, with the pâté sample, which we immediately fell in love with,” says Jean-Marc Champagne, Fromagerie Bothwell’s owner. “Now, when customers purchase Tony’s Pâté for the first time, we’ll see them a week or two later, and they’ll be raving about how good it is, and that it reminded them of the pâté their mother or grandmother used to make.”
Champagne, who, as owner of a fromagerie, is probably a bit biased, agrees with Jacques’s earlier assertion that pâté pairs perfectly with victuals such as cheese.
“I experimented with many (cheeses) and really like how his pâté and our smooth-textured Muenster cheese complement one another. Anytime I make a cheese board, I make sure to include both,” he says.
In 2019, around the same time Jacques was just starting to get his pâté into stores, he learned the Alberta-based company he was working for full-time was closing its Winnipeg office. If he wanted to maintain his position, he would have to head west, again, he was told. The thought didn’t appeal to him or his wife, mainly for family reasons, so he let his bosses know he would be staying put, to devote his full attention to his fledgling enterprise.
He became more and more convinced he’d made the right decision in the ensuing months. Additional retailers, including De Luca’s and Calabria Market, were ordering his pâté for their shelves and he was also becoming a fixture at well-attended events such as the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market.
Then COVID struck.
Because not everybody is familiar with pâté, and because many people have negative opinions about it owing to the controversial foie gras variety (no, he wasn’t fattening up ducks or geese in his backyard, he’d tell anybody who asked), he had been relying heavily on sampling to generate interest.
“My success rate, by sampling, was 85 to 90 per cent, so my initial thinking, to put it bluntly, was, ‘I’m screwed,’” he says. Even after markets were allowed to reopen in May 2020, there were so many pandemic-related regulations in place that he still wasn’t sure what he’d do, going forward. Finally, after consulting with health inspectors, he was given permission to hand out pre-packaged, individual containers of his pâté, which, to be on the safe side, he continues to do, to this day.
In addition to pork, Jacques also offers a smoked trout variety, which he debuted last fall. He’d always thought pâté and smoked fish, be it salmon, trout or goldeye, were a great match. He reached out to the owner of Mariner Neptune Fish and Seafood on Dufferin Avenue to ask if he could supply him what he’d need in the way of ingredients, and just like that, he had another hit on his hands.
On a sombre note, Jacques’s eldest brother died earlier this year. At a family memorial held last month, two of his older brothers took him aside, to let him know how proud they are of what he’s accomplished with their father’s recipe. To hear that was better than any five-star review he could ever receive, he says with a faint smile.
As for his dad, he’s fairly certain he’s paying attention from somewhere, and is also pleased with what he’s managed to achieve thus far.
“There have definitely been occasions when it felt like he was right there, looking over my shoulder,” he says, taking a sip of coffee. “It will be month-end, I’ll have a big bill to pay and somehow I’ll land a new order out of the blue and the bill gets paid. Call it divine intervention or whatever, but hey, I’ll take all the help I can.”
For more information, go to freresjacques.com.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
C’EST BON ÇA
Colin Remillard is the co-owner of Jardins St-Léon Gardens, an al fresco market at 419 St. Mary’s Rd.
He and his brother Luc have been carrying Frères Jacques’s pâté since 2020, and he feels the product came along at the right time.
“It had a lovely flavour and consistency, was locally made and was of a high quality, which meant we were very tempted by the product, right off the bat,” Remillard says. “Plus, it was reminiscent of the delicious Del’s local pâté brand we sold, many years ago.”
Calling pâté a niche product, he goes on to say the delicacy is immensely popular with the local French-Canadian community, which his business caters to. (Spend five minutes there, and you’re almost guaranteed to be humming along to whatever French artist is playing in the background.)
“Spread that delicious stuff on a baguette with salted Notre-Dame Butter, and you’ve got yourself an instant picnic favourite,” he says. “Our French-Canadian customers were delighted to see a traditional pâté on our shelves, once again.”
— David Sanderson