Introducing… Les Fougères Restaurant!
Chef-visionaries Charles Pratt and Jennifer Warren-Pratt are co-owners of Chelsea’s Les Fougères restaurant, and if you’ve never been there, drop everything and make a reservation. Now! I recently interviewed them by e-mail, and their comments reveal their love for and dedication to their Outaouais community.
What’s so special?
The ambience. I love the heritage architecture of the Outaouais, and Charles and Jennifer have renovated an old building to its current airy, welcoming “heritage farmhouse” look.
“It was a gas station prior to Les Fougères, and before that a dépanneur (corner store), post office, boarding house and dance hall! When we arrived in 1993, we wanted to build a commercial kitchen and install large picture windows in the dining room, overlooking the gardens and woods.”
Nature embraces guests as we dine. When we first ate here, hummingbirds darted among the flowers, while ferns (‘fougères’ means ‘ferns’) swayed in a gentle breeze. We most recently visited last October: the gardens were sleeping and nightfall had embraced Les Fougères. Howe'ver, subdued lighting, honey-coloured wooden beams and flooring, flickering candlelight and welcoming staff generated cozy warmth.
Intent on supporting locals, Charles and Jennifer hired Pontiac artist and woodworker Richard Blais to build their cabinets, bannisters and screen doors. A friend of mine, years ago he once told me, “I don’t do straight lines!” Indeed, the signature exquisitely flowing curves he creates adds to the organic mood of Les Fougères.
“Organic” is de rigueur here, from ambience to terroir. That’s because the food Jennifer and Charles select is regionally sourced – some as local as honey produced by apiarist Alain Piché from hives in their garden.
“We try to highlight local suppliers in our menus and in dishes we prepare for our store. During the growing season, our vegetables come from two nearby organic farms – Juniper Farm in Wakefield and Hendrick Farm here in Chelsea. Local suppliers of cheeses, cranberries, maple syrup, mushrooms and other wonderful ingredients give a delicious Outaouais feel to our work.”
Prepared food line
Not only do they produce delectable meals for on-site dining experiences, they have created a line of prepared foods sold at Les Fougères.
“We believe it is awful that it’s so hard to find healthy prepared foods in the grocery store aisles. So we built an artisanal production kitchen behind our restaurant and shop, where we produce a line of prepared foods completely made from scratch using natural ingredients. We distribute many of these foods now, primarily in the Québec market in over 50 fine food stores but also in major chains like Metro, Loblaws, IGA and Avril – as far away as Sherbrooke.”
What do they love about the Outaouais?
Calling themselves “crusaders” because of their zeal for authentic, organic food, Charles and Jennifer are also dedicated to their Outaouais community. “What we like best about the Outaouais region is its bilingual reality and the healthy, multilayered, rich lifestyle in which it invites us to live, where we are in close proximity to nature in every distinct season. Gatineau is a city on the move, too, where there is a nascent upswing in new entrepreneurs bringing all sorts of verve to the scene. We feel like the luckiest people on earth!”
But I think you and I are the luckiest. After all, we can visit Les Fougères and appreciate this dedicated couple’s inspired creations.