Le Groupe Maurice’s blue basket

|Orientation Fraîcheur

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ve no doubt heard about Fresh Traditions, one of our main sources of pride. This program is designed to ensure that our residences’ dining tables are heaped high with tasty dishes featuring fresh and local seasonal produce.

But don’t think for a minute that we’ve been resting on our laurels since Fresh Traditions was launched—far from it! Groupe Maurice’s food services team works day in, day out to push the limits of this program even further, not only for the residents’ dining pleasure but also to boost the success of producers in Quebec and other parts of Canada.

In support of Le Groupe Maurice’s efforts to “shop locally,” we spoke with Maurice Chartrand, Food Services Director at the company’s head office. In addition to being one of the driving forces behind Fresh Traditions, Maurice is one of the most fervent ambassadors for local products in our kitchens.

“Through Orientation Fraîcheur, we decided to strengthen our product selection to ensure the lowest possible level of processing. Similarly, we are constantly monitoring the market and checking the availability of local produce so we can make more room for made-in-Quebec products in our kitchens.”

Rising to the challenge with community-based solutions

The pandemic we are currently experiencing has had a major impact on our day-to-day lives; it has also upended the way we run the kitchens in our residences. Setting aside heightened public health protocols and logistical challenges, our teams have also had to deal with supply issues and new procedures. And they’ve risen to the challenge with flying colours!

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we had to make a few decisions, particularly regarding products whose demand went sky-high due to the health crisis. That includes packaging, which we rarely used in the past. We encouraged the residents to have their meals delivered to their door, instead of eating in the facility’s large dining room. So, the teams started delivering door-to-door and that meant we needed lots of packaging. Prior to that, what little we needed was supplied by a company in the US; once the borders closed and we faced the prospect of running out of stock, we found a new local supplier. Today, we have a new distributor in Boucherville, Carrousel Packaging, whose products are manufactured in Ontario.”

This same approach was used for everyday products that make their way onto residents’ plates. As a bonus, Le Groupe Maurice has given various small Quebec producers access to a much larger clientele by working closely with Gordon Food Service (GFS), our food partner.

“We continue to work closely with the GFS team in search of local solutions. After the major producers closed during the pandemic, we decided to do business with smaller local firms, including a ham producer based in Lac-Saint-Jean and a sausage producer, Les gars de saucisse, based in Richmond in the Eastern Townships. Thanks to our additional order volume with these producers, they are now included in GFS’s sales catalogue. Which means they now have access to lots more clients. We’re very pleased with this turn of events!”

To take another example, Maurice and his team replaced US-based Quaker brand with dessert products from NutriFrance, based in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. They are also working closely with local manufacturers such as Les Viandes Premières to develop products that are as natural as possible and adapted to our industry.

Blue Basket: made in Quebec

“Depending on the residence, local products may account for 80% to 85% of our chefs’ purchases. That really is incredible! Of course, some vegetables are harder to find when it gets colder out. And since we cook international dishes for our residents, our olive oil typically comes from Italy or Spain; our dates come from Algeria… But we’re proud of our made-in-Quebec shopping basket!”

As Maurice Chartrand notes, at Le Groupe Maurice, not only the chefs use Quebec products. Even the vice-presidents are donning their kitchen apparel, as attested by the recipe shared this month by Claude Savard, Vice-President, Information Technology. He and Maurice prepared a lip-smacking tourtière based on the recipe used by Mr. Savard’s grandmother, who was originally from Lac-Saint-Jean.

A secret of Quebec cuisine, just for you!

Maurice Chartrand also shared a closely guarded Quebec secret—one that lies behind the unique-tasting seasonings used in Le Groupe Maurice’s kitchens.

“I would like to extend my special thanks to the company Les Épices de Marie-Michèle (émm), which helps us on our culinary odyssey! Marie-Michèle and her team deliver directly from their shop in Chambly to our 33 kitchens. I strongly encourage all residents and readers to try her unique blends and shop on her new website.”

We also urge all readers to explore made-in-Quebec products, particularly in the Holiday Season. Now you can create your very own Blue Basket!