Meet Pascal. Mayor of a village of one. Proprietor of a secret tea house even Google can’t find. He’s a recluse with an open-door policy and a home for the performing arts with instruments he can’t play. A French pastry chef creating culinary magic in the woods of western Canada.
Pascal's elusive and reclusive aura checked every box on my list of interesting people in unusual places doing amazing things with food, I had to find him!
Going on nothing more than a tip from a friend of a friend, of a friend, I tried to track him down. It was no easy task. People don’t slip away from the Pinot Noir and Coq Au Vin culinary Mecca of Burgundy, France into the remote regions of Canada because they want to be found. Though I find if I explain I’m willing to ride a dirt bike for several days through blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, and across the rocky mountains at the tail end of winter just to try their pecan tart, they tend to leave a light on for me.
To get there, part of the verbal map he gave me went like this; “...turn left up the icy road for 6km, if you have side training wheels for your bike, you might need them. The road is pretty icy …once here, follow the path to my house. If you are lost, scream, and someone might come to help or have a candle and an emergency blanket for the cold cold night…”
Luckily I arrived in the late afternoon, the road was more slush than ice and I ran into Pascal at a pass on the road. He’d forgotten something for the dessert course of our dinner together back at his secret pastry lab at the bottom of the mountain.
At the top, a snowy path through the trees leads back to reveal what I thought was going to be a dilapidated shack in the woods. Instead, I find more of a Walt Disney fairytale. A hand-built Hobbit castle complete with a double glass door entrance depicting the name of his establishment on the glass. Go right, you'll find the outhouse. Go left and you find a path to a treehouse with living quarters, a cedar sauna, and a massage room. Just up from there is a spot picked out for a future performing arts stage.
A village whose entire year-round population was formerly made up by Pascal, and he’s since added an eatery, multiple living quarters, sauna, massage room, and is in the works of building a center for performing arts! I’ve seen entire municipal planning departments with budgets in the millions who have less hope for the future.
Over a glass of wine near the log fire and right across from the piano (he keeps just in case someone stops in that can actually play it), Pascal explains that he’d migrated to Canada from Burgundy, France in 1995 hoping to find some of that great Canadian space he’d heard so much about. He’d landed in Vancouver and wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with the wide open wilderness.
Two years later, he’d moved to the once gold mining hamlet of Ferguson, which on arrival had a population of zero. Two years later he’d bought some land and for seventeen years following, he was the only full time resident. Now, nearly three decades later, Pascals built up the eclectic setting I see before me, and the village population has exploded to four year-round residents. Two of those residents, a couple from Saskatchewan who had been looking for a place to live off-grid are joining us for dinner.
While the three of us chat over battery-powered LED lights, Pascal disappears to whip up a three-course meal starting with baked prawns served in a decorative clam shell followed by a salmon entree. Then, the stars of the show are presented to finish off the meal. A chocolate cheesecake (and my reason for coming), the pecan tart. Pascal serves us all three rounds in his subtle Le Chat Noir apron adorning a headlamp.
To cap it off, I enjoyed a night in the spare room falling asleep to the scent of cedar wood wafting from the walls. In the morning I awoke to meet Pascal putting together a simple breakfast of black tea made from some melted snow, strained to remove the pine needles, and a chocolate brioche he’d made that was warming over the wood stove. The ambiance of this wooded wonderland was a culinary delight you could not recreate with the best of Michelin star budgets.
In the summer months, Pascal’s little oasis is open on Sundays from 12-5 selling tea and his infamous pastries at the house. The summer tea is made from a freshwater spring in the hills. You can sit to enjoy a pastry, play the piano, and feed the free roaming chickens. Always the entrepreneur, Pascal also makes specialty chocolates and ice cream in nearby Trout Lake. To entice the fisherman to bring him food for his chickens, he has a spin-to-win wheel outside the ice cream shop. If you bring your fish heads to him and buy ice cream, you can spin to win an additional free ice cream!
There is even the option to rent the treehouse or stay in the B&B room where I stayed. The catch, well, you're going to need to find him. Pascal enjoys guests, likes having people for tea, and loves making ice cream to sell. However, he’s afraid that if hoards of people start showing up just to take a selfie with the eclectic French Chef in the woods, the whole place might lose some of its charm. So just like me, you’ll need to find Pascal and the trail to the Pecan Tarts.
Recipe for 50-60 tarts. For fewer tarts divide the recipe into two.
-400g Corn Syrup
Melt butter, sugar, and syrup together. Then add eggs to the mixture with the ingredients warm not hot or you will cook the eggs. (Don’t add pecans)
Dough / Crust
-500g butter (room temperature)
-500g white sugar or brown if you want a richer sweetness
-1kg white flour
-7 eggs (room temperature)
It’s best to leave the butter and eggs on the counter overnight so they are at room temperature. Trying to mix pastry with cold ingredients is difficult and heating up the butter and then adding the eggs might cook the egg.
Cut the butter into 1” cubes, then hand mix with the flour. Once mixed into a coarse mixture similar to breadcrumbs, add sugar, and eggs. Then mix until everything is combined and moist. Don’t over mix.
Refrigerate in plastic wrap for 30 minutes to allow the dough to firm up.
Then roll it out with a rolling pin to about ¼” thickness, roughly as thick as a toonie.
Grease tart shells with butter and then fit the dough into tart shells. 5-6” size shells are the best.
Put 10-14 pecans in the bottom of the shell on top of the dough base, then add filling to about 90% full. The pecans should float to the top while cooking.
Cook at 350oF until firm, approximately 30 minutes. If you poke with a toothpick and it comes out dry, they are ready.
If they are black, you cooked them too long :)