Valley Lives - Guy Blain
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 18, 2019 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Chef Guy Blain - the trailblazer of French cuisine in the Hills
By Hollie Davies
Leaving those here on Earth with a broken heart and an empty stomach, devoted husband, loving father and grandfather, and chef extraordinaire Guy Blain could sense what was coming, prompting him to make a heartbreaking phone call to friend and protégé Jean-Claude Chartrand a little over a month ago. Blain was getting his affairs in order.
Ten years ago, Blain, renowned for leading the culinary way in the Outaouais when he opened L'Orée du Bois, was suffering from cancer. After being in remission for a decade, the cancer in his kidney returned at a fast and furious pace. Blain died on Aug. 14 at the age of 73
Not only did Blain leave behind a loving family and many friends - he also left the Outaouais with a legacy that lives on in a charming, culinary jewel tucked into the edge of the woods. A pioneer of fine dining, Blain came to Canada from France for Expo 67, and ended up staying in the country, working at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal as well as the National Arts Centre in Ottawa before opening his own establishment in 1978.
For the next 34 years, he worked diligently to establish himself, and his vibrant restaurant, as contenders on the culinary scene. When none of Blain's four children displayed any desire to take over the family business, the revered Old Chelsea restaurant was bought by chef Jean-Claude Chartrand in 2012, although it continues to convey the soul of its visionary - the food is classically French with a regional twist, and has gained many faithful customers over the years.
Chartrand reminisces about Blain fondly, admitting they would poke fun at his gentle and soft-spoken nature, saying, "We used to call him Mr. Dalai Lama. I never once heard him scream." This flies in the face of many of the celebrity chefs who make headlines. But Blain had a much different approach to running a kitchen. "He was a gentleman. He respected everybody. And he was very, very passionate about cooking," said Chartrand when asked to shed a little light on the life of his friend. "When [Blain] arrived [in the Outaouais], no one knew what leeks were - he's the one who introduced French cuisine to the region."
Working 18 hours a day to build his institution from scratch, with four children and a wife at home, he was finally able to share some of the hard work with Chartrand when he hired him as sous-chef in 1995. Having a front row seat to Blain's work for so many years taught Chartrand an overwhelming amount, but most important for Chartrand was the humble and respectful man he carries in his heart, and brings into the kitchen, every day.
With time comes change, and Chartrand is making some, slowly but surely. A new terrace will seat 65 people and be outfitted with a custom barbecue and pizza oven. But customers won't ever see gooey, cheesy slices on the menu. "We're French, not Italian," said Chartrand with a laugh. "Guy was a real Frenchman, and he would respect this."
Guy Blain's memorial service will be held at L'Orée Du Bois, 15 Chemin Kingsmere in Chelsea, on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10 a.m.
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