Last week, I finally got around to reading Maudite Poutine, Charles-Alexandre Théoret’s definitive history and celebration of Quebec’s legendary dish. While an English translation is not yet available, here is an executive summary of poutine’s slow ascent to global domination through some of the key events outlined in the book.
1957: Construction worker Eddy Lainesse orders fries at Warwick’s Café Idéal, asking restaurant owner Fernand Lachance to mix it up with some cheese curds. “I can put it in a waxed sandwich bag for you,” said Lachance “but you’ll end up with a damned mess (Ça va faire une maudite poutine)!” Lainesse then adds some salt and vinegar to the bag and walks out with his messy “poutine”. The concoction soon catches on among other construction workers in the region.
1964: Although Fernand Lachance claims to have introduced brown sauce to the “poutine” sometime between 1957 and 1964, Jean-Paul Roy has a competing claim: “Nobody had the idea before me.” Owner of Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, Roy noticed his patrons’ curious habit of adding cheese to their “frite sauce,” so he added the combo to his menu under the name “fromage-patate-sauce” in 1964. Looking for a better name for his dish, Roy says many grandmothers used the English word “pudding” to refer to any kind of mix, which in Québécois French came to be pronounced “poutine.” Since Roy’s cook was nicknamed Ti-Pout, the staff used to joke around that “Ti-Pout is making poutine,” which eventually led them to enshrine the name in their menu.
1972: Snack bar owner Ashton Leblond introduces poutine to the Quebec City region after trying it out at his brother’s snack bar in Arthabaska. The legendary Chez Ashton poutine is born.
1975: The Poutine Pundit is born in Quebec City, eating his first poutine 5-6 years later (okay, that’s not in the book).
1983: Poutine first appears in Montreal.
1987: Burger King becomes the first international fast food chain to sell poutine at a few select restaurants in Quebec, spreading to all restaurants in the province a year later.
1990: All McDonald’s restaurants in Quebec add poutine to their menu.
1990-1995: Poutine spreads to English Canada, and is embraced wholeheartedly.
1998: First recorded poutine in Asia, at all New York Fries restaurants in Korea. Poutine also begins its slow infiltration of the United States.
2004: World’s biggest poutine prepared by New York Fries in Toronto, referred to as “Canada’s national dish” in the press, leading to a backlash against this English-Canadian cultural appropriation of a Québecois original.