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Creating a Menu from a Book

Randi Rudner, Stratford Chefs School Program Manager and Alumni Class of 2012, explains how she developed a unique menu inspired by Five Roses by Alice Zorn. Don’t miss this literary dinner and author chat at the Appetite for Words Festival!

It is not particularly easy to tease a dinner menu out of a work of fiction, even when cooking and sharing food figures prominently in the story itself. Five Roses by Alice Zorn is an engrossing story of the complicated relationships and histories between four women living, loving, and working in Pointe St Charles, a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal.

Two of the central characters, Maddy and Yushi, are co-workers in a pastry shop, and in their blossoming friendship the women share cooking lessons and meals together, eventually partnering in a cake business. The foods explicitly mentioned in the context of this relationship, such as ratatouille, Trinidadian buss-up-shut, and gateau noumea, would be an easy, obvious point of departure for a dinner. Such a menu could be cobbled together that would surely please those diners familiar with the story, but that might not hang together in a gastronomically satisfying manner.

A less obvious, but perhaps more coherent approach to menu design using Alice Zorn’s Five Roses as inspiration might be to examine the cuisines of blue-collar Montreal and rural Quebec. The city of Montreal itself is a character in Five Roses, and Zorn explores the gentrification of the Pointe St Charles neighbourhood as a backdrop to the turmoil (and ultimately, growth) affecting her main characters. Many of the dishes that would have sustained the working-class residents of the historical Pointe St Charles (as well as Rivière-des-Pins, where Zorn’s character Rose spent her isolated, impoverished childhood) have since been reinterpreted by the fashionable restaurants infiltrating the area. Thus, menu items such as cretons and pouding chomeur have become trendy in an area of the city where they were once a necessity, but have nevertheless been staples for well over a century. Paying homage to the culinary history of working-class Montreal and Quebec seems like a perfectly appropriate menu theme for a dinner celebrating a novel that is so firmly rooted in the specificity of Pointe St Charles.

About the Event

This literary dinner event with Alice Zorn will occur on Saturday, October 28, from 6:30-9 pm at the Stratford Chefs School and will include a reading from Five Roses, a chat with Alice herself, and a delicious themed meal.

About Randi Rudner 

Hailing originally from Montreal, Randi lived in Kingston for 12 years. There, she took an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Queen’s University, taught clinical and communication skills at Queen’s University Medical School, and co-owned a co-operative cafe, where she found her place in the kitchen. Randi’s position as sous chef in a restaurant owned by graduates of the Stratford Chefs School led to her enrollment in the Chefs School, where she graduated with honours in 2012. Randi now cooks at Rundles Restaurant during the summer season and is delighted to be a core member of the Stratford Chefs School faculty.

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What foods do you associate with rural Quebec?