Out of the Box & Into the Bubble: How Alumna Héloïse is Putting Her Stamp on Québécois Cuisine

Many students who join our Institute come with the end goal of opening their own business one day, and Héloïse Leclerc was no different. When she first joined our Culinary Arts program in September 2011, Héloïse moved across Canada with one plan in mind: gain knowledge and skill at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts so that she could return home to Québec, and open an authentic Chinese restaurant.

Fast forward to today.

Héloïse keeps herself busy as a culinary writer with two websites. In one, she's posted over 120 recipes of her own, and in the other, she focuses on discussing and dissecting Québec's local and provincial culinary scene. As well, she is a personal chef and a menu developer/consultant for other business owners. 

Lastly - and perhaps most importantly - she also has a pop-up restaurant of her own.

She calls it a bubble restaurant (resto-bulle en français), and explains that "the image of the bubble is very strong, since once we perform such a whimsical event, it never comes back." And what a whimsical event it is, indeed: her first took place just three weeks ago, in a space at Robert Lepage's famed production centre, La Caserne. Consisting of seven courses, the gastronomic journey was themed "Underground" - a nod to the shady, clandestine operations that inspired her concept. 

heloise3.jpgFrançois Chartier, internationally acclaimed sommelier and 'créateur d'harmonies' (he was, most notably, a consultant and collaborator for two seasons at Ferran Adrià's elBulli) selected the wine pairings for her meal, whose courses consisted of a micro-bird's nest (left), a 'stalagmite' palate cleanser, 'stratification' - a course so named for its rock and stone-like layers representing culinary history (bottom left), and an edible gold nugget dessert served in the dark by headlamp-wearing waiters (below right) just to name a few. The guests even had flashlights so they could dig through their dessert in the dark! 
Needless to say, the resulting event was a success, and the next resto-bulle - planned for St. Valentine's Day - is already in the works. "We will explore the theme of poetry and courtly love," Héloïse explains. "Each plate will illustrate a poem or literary love story, and the concept will be complete with live music, performing artists, live installations, and more." And in case you were worried that she's lost sight of her original goal, fear not - the next one after will be themed around Zhōngguó, which Héloïse says "ought to be a fabulous opportunity to showcase [her] passion for Chinese cooking."
heloise4.jpgHéloïse is proud to note that her resto-bulle is the first to be officially covered by the media, and openly talked about in her province. "Already, I am receiving phone calls and emails from people all over [...], asking for us to organize bubbles in other cities," she says. But she isn't about to go mainstream - "We're in no rush to export our concept, as we intend to build a strong reputation first - a signature, if we may."
It's crystal clear that dining goes far beyond the plate for Héloïse's creative mind. Her resto-bulle is not just a meal, it's an experience; it's a feast for all the senses - gastronomically and intellectually. "What we do right now truly challenges the industry," she says. "Our thinking out of the box is an inspiration for traditional food entrepreneurs." These very same entrepreneurs have kept her phone ringing daily, exchanging ideas and contributing to her ever-evolving project.
heloise2.jpgHéloïse closes with this note: "I am miles away from my original plan - the one that sent me back to school, but I do feel that I am at the right place at the moment. I am forever grateful for the training I received at PICA, and the support I got from my chefs and all the staff, which gives me confidence in what I do, and enough skill (at least, an ability to research, try and explore) to make my way in the industry."
Héloïse's journey has only just begun - and we couldn't be more proud to have this innovative, talented chef as one of our alumni. We can't wait to see what she does next!

Credits: Headshot, Bird's Nest & Héloïse at work by Annie Simard; Gold Nugget by Catherine Martel. Food styling for both the nest and gold nugget by Valérie Labbé. See all the photos from her Underground Resto-Bulle here.