For the first several decades following its invention, poutine—a Canadian concoction of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy—remained relatively undiscovered by the world outside its home province of Quebec. But within the last few years, the dish has suddenly sprung into national and international fame.
While the rich meal has landed recognition in Tokyo and the United Kingdom, its most notable rise has occurred in the U.S., where it’s infiltrated New England and worked its way into cities scattered around the Canadian border. Chicago hosted a poutine festival that prided itself on “ruining your bikini bods.” Chefs in Detroit have developed inventive plays on the Canadian dish, including versions with duck confit gravy and spicy chorizo alongside the original fries-curd-gravy trifecta.
Along with that increase in popularity, the dish has become a veritable Canadian icon. It was even served at the White House during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit in 2016.
So how did the greasy guilty pleasure make it to the big times? According to Jake Edmiston of Toronto’s National Post, it was popularized by “inventive Quebec chefs and a youth nightlife culture that appreciated poutine’s virtues as a post-bar snack.” Indeed, its reputation as a prime “drunk food” may have contributed to a late-night craze.
According to a CBC interview with chef Ricardo Larrivée and author Charles-Alexandre Théorêt, we can thank Martin Picard and Anthony Bourdain for poutine’s national and international acclaim.
Picard is a Canadian author, television personality, and chef at Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon, where he serves a foie gras-laced version. Bourdain, an American television personality, featured Picard’s version in Montreal on his show in 2006. He also televised his visit to famous Montreal poutinerie La Banquise, describing his meal as “a forbidden love.” According to Théorêt, Picard’s unique blend and Bourdain’s worldwide audience thrust the dish into its new role as “a world star.”
Poutine has spread into the literary realm, too. In The Biggest Poutine in the World, a children’s book, author Andree Poulin works the Quebecois specialty into the plot. The coming-of-age story features a protagonist who goes on a journey to build the biggest poutine. Let’s hope the tale is fiction; otherwise the character will have to rival this 4,000-pound masterpiece.