Homegrown Success

Countryside has yielded a national culinary champ: Yannick LaSalle

When Yannick LaSalle was growing up in Bryson, a village (population 647) on the shore of the Ottawa River, there was a garden in the yard, but the food at the supper table was family fare. Nothing fancy. In those days the kid from the Pontiac couldn’t possibly imagine becoming Canada’s best chef.

He did, nonetheless. After Yannick hoisted the trophy as winner of the 2019 Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna in February, head judge James Chatto described him as “a hugely popular and well-deserved victor” who made hundreds of friends during the prestigious competition. He’s just that kind of a guy. Grounded, with a big dollop of positive energy. When the apron comes off, for instance, the affable 32-year-old enjoys walking his dog, Shiraz. He loves to spend time with his partner, Sara. A blissful meal, for Yannick, is as apt to be a feast of his mom’s shepherd’s pie as it is a dinner at a tony dining establishment. The pleasure, he says, is in the experience: the people you’re with, the ambience, the hospitality, and all the sensory elements—aroma, presentation, wine, laughter. After the apron goes on, Yannick’s exuberance is evident in what comes out of the kitchen.

When he and his team from Les Fougères competed against 10 culinary teams at the Leucan Outaouais Chefs Challenge, an 11-course gastronomic competition last spring, he won—and the judges were members of the public. It’s easy to root for this local chef. After high school, he headed to nearby Fort-Coulonge (population 1377) to study machining. In his second year, he switched to cooking classes. “Then I knew I was doing something I liked.”

Over the years he honed skills at various restaurants, including L’Escarbille, a Michelin-star restaurant in Meudon, France. The garden took on significance thanks to stints at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a famously farm-driven restaurant in New York State, and Manresa, a California eatery with three Michelin stars founded by farm-to-table icon David Kinch. Now that Yannick has made a name for himself, though, he hasn’t forgotten his countryside roots or what drives him: “I want people feeling good at the end of a meal.”