by Ola Mazzuca
Photography by Jeffrey Chan courtesy of Bonne Maman
French fare can be attributed to a variety of eponymous elements. Julia Child represented technique. Alice Waters stood for quality ingredients. In the kitchen, it’s Bonne Maman – a brand that has been around for over 40 decades, celebrating the nostalgia of homemade jellies and preserves. Maybe it’s the red and white gingham pattern lid or simple script logo that resonates in our minds, echoing nostalgia of fresh buttery croissants spread with butter and strawberry jam. Maybe’s it’s the most humble branding that struck us first as we strolled the aisles of our local supermarket or specialty grocer. At Cluny Bistro in Toronto’s historic Distillery District, it’s all about bringing Bonne Maman to brunch.
On Saturday, November 14, Celebrity Chef Christine Tizzard (CBC’s Best Recipes Ever) hosted an engaging event, sharing her love for Bonne Maman products. Tizzard, who was born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, can’t remember any name brand jam sitting on the shelf. Despite the fact that “good quality fruit was hard to find in Newfoundland,” all jellies and preserves were homemade. It was on the chef’s first trip to France that she discovered Bonne Maman.
“That’s where I had my first Parisian croissant,” Tizzard says of the cafe below the hotel she and her mother stayed. “The jars on the table were Bonne Maman. I said to my mom, ‘this is way better jam than what we have at home.’”
Bonne Maman uses top-notch ingredients, sourcing fruit directly from France and non-GMO practices. A recent AC Nielsen product report states that overall sales of jams and preserves have been down 10 per cent on the market, however Bonne Maman is booming at an increase of 29 per cent.
Cluny’s Executive Chef Paul Benallick emphasizes the bistro’s attention to detail. “It’s not tweezer food. It’s interesting, good French food,” he says.
Benallick says it was a “challenge to pair sweet jams with a savoury brunch,” yet showed and proved effortlessly with a diverse menu infusing Bonne Maman’s flavour with style.
On the table were Cluny’s fresh mini baguettes baked from the in-house boulangerie, a selection of breads and croissants perfect for spreading the jam. We commenced with a bonne maman red currant jelly roasted heirloom carrot salad. Set atop a sunchoke puree, and dusted with fresh lime, chili, hazelnuts and ducca, the dish was aesthetically pleasing. The vegetables had been roasting since the wee hours, and it was evident in their texture and compliment to the red currant.
The second course featured grilled east coast halibut cheek. Benallick says that all fo Cluny’s seafood is sourced from East to West coast from various boats, highlighting everything in season. In this dish, Bonne Maman dulche de leche was used in the vadouvan base, an flagrant and rich French curry made in-house, blended with steel-cut grits and a slice of soft, roasted acorn squash.
Pairing berries with poultry is key, and the main event delivered with a whole roasted organic duck. Carved table side, the bird was complimented by an array of sides including: brussels sprout and quinoa salad, confit fingerling potatoes dusted with coarse sea salt and herbs, and a sticky-sweet blend of spiced walnut and bonne maman cherry jam chutney. With duck, tart flavours (citrus or berry) is imperative.
The final course, or piece de resistance, of bonne maman chestnut spread stuffed profiteroles, with milk chocolate chantilly and a berry puree. Perhaps the most unique product from the Bonne Maman line, the chestnut spread is definitely an acquired taste for those who are used to seeing vibrant colours on their butter knives. However, it’s a surprise to the palate, with its earthy, full flavour and concentrated texture.
A table full of like-minded women, passionate about food and a dedication to the craft, is the perfect setting to celebrate a kitchen staple like Bonne Maman. It’s simple, it’s quality and unapologetically off-the-shelf.