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A French Chef Heralds Bistronomic Cuisine at Auberge Saint-Antoine

romain-devanneaux-auberge-saint-antoine

Romain Devanneaux champions casual fine dining that puts flavours and ingredients ahead of ornate presentation. (Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine)

Lodged in a quiet corner of old Quebec City, Auberge Saint-Antoine, a member of the exclusive Relais & Châteaux group, is the city’s go-to hotel for visitors yearning for a rich historic setting fused with elegance and modern amenities. At Panache, its award-winning, four-diamond restaurant, guests knew to expect a fine-dining experience in a sophisticated, intimate setting.

Then in 2017, the Auberge relaunched Panache, as Chez Muffy, affectionately named after the matriarch of Auberge Saint-Antoine, Martha “Muffy” Bate Price.  With the new name came a less formal ambiance — a warm, French Canadian, family-style vibe. And then, in 2019, a new executive chef came on board.

Romain Devanneaux was the sous chef at Panache from 2013-17. “Coming back was,” he said, “like coming home and back to the family.”

local halibut with seasonal vegetables - auberge saint-antoine

Atlantic halibut is wrapped in collard greens and served with seasonal vegetables and a caraway broth at Chez Muffy. (Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine)

Vacay.ca: You have said the transition from Panache to Chez Muffy as going from a gastronomic restaurant to a bistronomic one. How do you describe the difference?

RD: Bistronomic is casual fine dining. It’s a trend that started in France where chefs wanting to get away from the stress of chasing after stars, opted instead for sharing delicious, in-season, locally sourced foods and not spending vast amounts of time and painstaking effort on presentation.

Vacay.ca: This can be a difficult shift for a restaurant. How have you accomplished it so successfully?

RD: I think local farmers and fishermen are as important to the dishes we prepare as our place is in the community.  We have a farm-to-fork experience with most of the produce coming from the family’s three-quarter-acre garden, across the river on Ile d’Orléans. Our goal was to appeal to locals as well as tourists.

Vacay.ca: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

RD: At home, in my mother’s kitchen when I was 15.

Vacay.ca: That was in Le Mans, France. How did you get from there to Quebec City?

RD: I studied at Lycée Sainte-Catherine and then did apprenticeships in Quebec and France at Relais & Château and Michelin-starred restaurants. After I graduated, I returned to Quebec and worked at Panache for four years. Then I went to the Arctic — first to Nunavut as a breakfast cook and then to a mining camp in Rankin Inlet where I was first cook. It was a really good experience. I learned a new way to manage the kitchen. I returned to Quebec as head chef at Les Sales Gosses, before coming to Chez Muffy.

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Vacay.ca:  How would you describe your cooking?

RD: Très simple. Very natural, using vegetables fresh from the garden that are full of taste by themselves. I try to use the entire vegetable in different ways and embellish with vegetables. I am not a fan of molecular cooking, nor a lot of fanfare with the presentation. I like slow-cooking techniques such as braising, and rotisserie. My goal is that there is something from our garden on every plate. Winter can be a challenge, so we preserve produce in a variety of ways to use throughout the winter.

garden produce auberge-saint-antoine

The quality of the produce from its farm near to Quebec City is one reason Auberge Saint-Antoine maintains its culinary stature. (Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine)

Vacay.ca: Where do you go for inspiration?

RD: Daniel Leroux who mentored me and Alain Ducasse where I worked in France.  And I go to the garden.

Vacay.ca: Tell us about the garden.

RD: The Price family has owned the vegetable garden since 1969. Today, there are more than 30 different types of vegetables and fruits. Alexandre Faille oversees the garden. He is all about sustainable and ethical horticulture, incorporating organic seeds, crop rotation, and composting without chemical fertilizer or pesticides. Alexandre and I are in perpetual contact as to what to grow. We are always looking for unique varieties. Being this close to the product in a world that is moving very fast is something close to my heart.

Vacay.ca: What are your favourite parts of France?

RD: The north, where I learned to cook, and Le Pays Basque and Bordeaux in the southwest.

Vacay.ca: And Canada?

RD: The Arctic is so different. I am glad to have had the experience there. I have travelled a lot in the east. I love Montreal, Gaspé, New Brunswick, and PEI. When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, I hope to travel more. I want to go west to discover the rest of Canada. I had an opportunity to work in Algeria and chose Canada instead. But I want to visit Algeria to see what is happening in kitchens there.

Vacay.ca: What is special about Quebec City for you?

RD: I met Lucille the day I arrived in 2013. We were married six months ago. This is home now and I am looking forward to becoming a citizen.

Vacay.ca: What are your favourite places in and around Quebec City?

RD:  Ile d’Orléans. It is the first place I visited. It is so close to the city and you’re in green spaces right away. There are a lot of small producers and craft breweries.

In the city, it’s the Chateau Frontenac. This is the first place I would take a visitor but I would take a boat and see it from the water rather from the land.

Vacay.ca: Where would you like to be living and what would you like to be doing in five years?

RD: I hope to be living here and working at Chez Muffy. When I was younger, I always wanted a Michelin star. That doesn’t work here. We are a four-diamond restaurant. Five diamond is a goal — not just for me, but for everybody. We have a lot of energy within the team and we like to share. I’d never say never!

Vacay.ca: What would you like to be remembered for?

RD: That I was a good person who was passionate about his work and gave the best of himself.