I have heard a rumour about beehives and an herb garden at the landmark Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. It is a scene I cannot resist, so I make my way to the hotel to seek out its creator, executive chef Jean Soulard. In the service elevator on the way to the rooftop where Soulard keeps the beehive and herb garden, he greets employees with warmth. “You know,” he turns to me and says, “it doesn’t matter what job they have, people here are just so proud to work at the Château Frontenac. You feel the soul of this hotel. You are not working for the hotel you are working for history.”
Soulard’s soft-spoken, gentle presence is mirrored in his surroundings and like the buds around him Soulard reveals himself slowly until finally he blossoms in conversation. Originally from France he learned cooking “at the apron tails of my grandmother.” After spending time in the kitchens of Asia and Europe, Soulard decided to move to Québec. “I had a chance to work in Australia and in the same week I got a phone call saying something had opened up in Canada. I really fell in love with Québec City. I’ve found that this is my country.”
Soulard has been with the Frontenac for sixteen years and runs cooking sessions at the hotel. He is happy and satisfied here in part because of the freedom he is given – in addition to working at the hotel he hosts a radio show, had his own cooking show on television for ten years, and has self-published several cookbooks. He takes me on a small tour of the garden pointing out blackberries, mint, oregano, tarragon, chives, sorrel, lavender, and other herbs. He plucks leaves for me to taste, periodically quizzing me as to their names. This season Soulard’s four beehives will produce 300 kilograms of honey, and the herbs will be used in the kitchen. “We have honey in the oldest city in North America, on the rooftop of a château,” he says proudly.
This is an excerpt of an original article. For more about Jean Soulard see the Fall 2009 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.