It is Poutine Week in Quebec City, and Simon Renaud, Executive Chef of Allegro and Le23 at Hilton Quebec is going to win the competition. His homemade French fries have been slathered with squeaky, locally made cheese curds topped with a 12 hour Caribou liquor braised beef, shredded after caramelization. The beef jus left over from braising is then reduced down to a rich and meaty gravy, lavishly poured over top, before being garnished with a crispy slice of Cipollini onion, and a perfectly cooked egg. It is, simply put, everything.
Renaud grew up here, in Quebec City, raised on the traditional Quebecois fare he now modernizes in the kitchens of Allegro and Le23. “My mother was a good cook” he explains, “but my father ran the barbeque”. His first kitchen job was at the iconic St. Hubert when he was only 15 years old. “It was clear for me that I had to do this job” he says “the adrenaline, the service, the ambience behind the scenes. I had to do this.” Renaud began cooking lessons at CFP Fierbourg and shortly was entering contests and winning culinary medals. With clear ambition, he worked two different jobs, running between a breakfast service at one hotel from 4am to noon, to the dinner service at another from 3pm to 11pm. “I felt like Superman” he laughs. Joining Hilton Quebec in 2015, Renaud continues his passion, bringing his energy and innovation to a new creative terroir. “It’s a lifestyle. It’s inside me. It’s a new challenge every day” he states, “it is a challenge to make something different for a guest, to create and deliver the wow while keeping the team motivated. It’s a constant job, but I don’t know what else I would do than be in the kitchen. It’s in the blood.”
Renaud’s focus at Allegro and Le23 remains on the local and slow food movement. “We need to know where our food comes from and learn about what our customers eat” he explains. Indeed, at the skyhigh Le23, located on the Hilton Quebec’s 23rd floor, offerings include a lunch buffet, “Buffet du terroir”, that is second only to the stunning, floor-to-ceiling windowed panorama of the Old City. Changing daily, the buffet features in-season, locally grown and produced vegetables, meats, and cheeses, all with a traditional Quebecois flair. Downstairs at Allegro, specialties include a pan-seared foie gras, garnished with sea buckthorn, crispy brioche bread and truffle popcorn, and a fork-tender venison from Boileau, Quebec served with bacon and Migneron mashed potatoes.
Demand for fresh, in-season, local produce extends to the work that Renaud conducts with conferences, groups, meetings, weddings, and congress. “When we meet with meeting and conference customers” he says “we always try and provide a highly personalized experience, so that the food is unique and tailored to them. We work very closely with the meeting planners, we go to the pre Congress meetings, and get to know what they are trying to accomplish and what will make a WOW.”
Renaud has to leave to put the final touches on a special event; the Carnival Buffet. Shortly, guests will start returning to the hotel, chilled and red-cheeked from an afternoon at the famous winter festival, ready for a warm up and some hearty Quebecois food. “People say I’m crazy” he laughs as he turns to get back to the kitchen “but I could do 12 to 13 hours in the kitchen, then come home and start cooking. It’s a way for me to decompress. My daughter has just finished her cooking classes so we cook together. I love to eat. Seared foie gras is my favorite food though, so I guess I won’t live too long!”