Food is our common ground, a universal experience. ~James Beard
It was about an hour on foot from the little restaurant on rue St. Jean to the university campus.
Every time I crossed through the walls of the city into old Quebec, I’d wander past just to see what was posted on the menu.
Of course, it wasn’t the sort of place that students went to. Too expensive – and I certainly didn’t have the right clothes.
I didn’t know then that ‘À la Table de Serge Bruyère’ was one of the best restaurants in Quebec, and that the legacy of Chef Bruyère would change the culinary landscape of Quebec. I learned all that later.
‘À La Table’ had been open 8 years when I finally, after months of peering at that menu, walked through the doors for a Saturday lunch.
I had taken the bus from campus, and arrived around 1:30. Tables were full of leisurely Saturday diners when I arrived completely unsuitably attired and porting my Sony walkman (which those of a certain vintage will remember well).
Several of the well-dressed patrons looked up with discernible disdain (I clearly wasn’t a typical customer) as I was led to my table by a very polite host.
To the surprise of my waiter, I ordered à la carte, forgoing the more affordable prix fixe menu that would have been the much more budget appropriate option at that time.
I sat there, lingering over an exquisite lunch, with my cropped hair and single dangling earring – almost oblivious to the occasional glances of those disapproving customers.
I remember ending the meal with an extravagant truffle torte. But that is all I remember about the food.
I wish I could recall the details of that afternoon’s meal. I know it was the best I had ever eaten, but the details of it are gone – with the exception of that torte.
I know it was worth paying so much that I didn’t have enough left for bus fare back to campus, and had to walk.
I know the food was amazing, but that’s not what I remember about the meal.
What sticks with me from that afternoon was the graciousness of the host and wait staff.
Unlike some of their customers, the restaurant staff were nothing but welcoming.
They didn’t judge my clothes or appearance. They didn’t make me feel that I didn’t belong. They treated me with the same respect that I saw them giving to everyone seated that day.
They didn’t grimace or roll their eyes at what could have seemed foolish questions.
They weren’t snobs.
I’ve since had the opportunity to eat in many fine restaurants, and the details of some of those meals I can recall with more clarity.
But my experience as a 19 year old in Quebec City all those years ago sticks with me to this day.
Food is not meant to divide people into classes of those ‘in-the-know’ and those outside it.
Food offered in the spirit of true hospitality is a breaking of bread. Good hosts know this.
And likewise good guests – whether of first-class restaurants or a person’s modest home – do not turn up their noses at such gifts.
No matter how humble those gifts may seem.