Grand Award 2018 : interview with Ian Purtell
Last week, we all learned the wonderful news that the Le Coureur des Bois Bistro Culinaire located in Beloeil had just earned the very prestigious Grand Award prize awarded by Wine Spectator. This restaurant is the unique laureate in Québec, with only 91 restaurants worldwide that have been decorated with this wonderful award!
Alfred, as a proud business partner of the restaurant, wanted to pay homage to their success and wanted to allow the restaurant to shine in light of this recently earned distinction.
We have interviewed Ian Purtell, director of the restaurant & sommelier at the Coureur des Bois Bistro Culinaire that will tell the tale of this incredible adventure.
How are you feeling today in light of this huge announcement?
Very excited, but also liberated because the visit of Bruce Sanderson (of Wine Spectator) at the restaurant, a visit that lasted for a full weekend (from friday to sunday), was quite stressful as we were audited during all of it. There were email exchanges between Bruce and Mathieu (the owner) for final questions, but it was almost two weeks later that before we got to the result of today: we were awarded the famous Grand Award.
During all of this process, we had to maintain complete silence until the official announcement. It was not easy to not say a word about such exciting news. We had to keep it to ourselves for two and a half months. I was like a kid at the end, as I was basically counting down each day until the official announcement would take place. One little breach or a small mention anywhere could have caused the loss of our prize. In light of this, we were very mindful of the rules. Today, with this weight lifted off our shoulders, we are euphoric. We spent the entire day thanking the team and celebrating. This morning, I went into my personal wine cellar and opened a beautiful Champagne bottle for breakfast with my wife Véronique. The ambience at the restaurant is completely crazy; it is the most beautiful recognition that we could have gotten and it truly represents all the efforts of the past five years!
Talk to us more about all the work that went into this…
First off, it is important to note that it is not as simple as possessing this or this other wine, or this quantity or this type of product… it is much more than this. Sure, there are certain criteria that must be fulfilled, but above all that rests the most important thing of all: what we are as a restaurant. The Grand Award does not only recognize a wine card, it recognizes a wine “program”. You can be blessed with the best wine card there is, but if you don’t have this necessary element, you simply cannot expect to win this award. The program represents the employees, the people that embody and share the passion flowing through their veins every single day.
We have a truly passionate team: Hugo Duchesne, head sommelier, Jean-Simon Rioux Ranger, assistant to the head sommelier, nine other sommeliers-waiters, waiters, clerks. We also have the privilege to be supported by an owner that shares our dreams and that wants us to always become better by traveling and meeting wine producers which truly makes the difference. An important fact for us is that with or without this award, we have never and will never change our attitude and our passion for what we do. All the time, the energy and the passion invested by the team is the crucial part and we will always strive to be better. This prize represents a reward for this tightly-knit passionate and hard-working team that is supported by our owner Mathieu, an owner that enjoys challenges.
We are a passionate bunch and it truly needs to be reflected in all we do, whether it be through our wines, our service, our cuisine, etc. Finally, it is the ultimate reward for all these years of constantly trying to do better. Today was filled with proudness and happiness. What comes out of earning such a prize is that our passion for wine is bigger than the wines themselves, or the restaurant, or the city of Beloeil, or the province of Québec, or even Canada… now, everyone on Earth is aware of the strong passion for wine that unites our team.
What was the process to get to where you are at today?
Here are a few rules to earn the Grand Award: the wine cellars of the awarded restaurants must be impressive, with more than 1 000 different selections coming from various regions, with an important selection of “Grand crus” and bigger bottles, offering various food and wine pairings, alongside a very high level of competence for the serving of the wine by the expert sommeliers. In addition, a ton of other criteria, unwritten ones, are also important to fulfill. To try and adapt ourselves, during the past five years, every time a restaurant was awarded with this prize, we analyzed their wine card attentively. We wanted to learn more about the directions they were taking, the ways that their card was written or their choice of producers. We then took these findings and adapted our wine card to their strengths. As an example, we knew we were quite strong in Bordeaux, but we wanted to improve our Burgundy collection, which is what we did by evacuating all the generic and commercial wines from our wine card in order to keep only the more specialized products and leaving to Mathieu the task to purchase the more expensive and famous crus.
Our wine card is just like a rainbow, meaning that it ends exactly like it started, but with every member of the team bringing its own color which truly makes the difference, ultimately. In addition, with Mathieu offering us all the freedom needed to make our choices, this allows every member of the team to discover new products all around the world. Many wine producers come to us, but we also go out of our way to meet up with some that are not quite as adventurous; this is a wonderful privilege that we have. Our meetings in person with these producers can make a huge difference, as having good relations (and keeping them that way) plays a huge part in what we can offer on our wine card in our restaurant.
Speaking of Mathieu, your owner, was his objective to create a unique restaurant right from the start?
Indeed, from day 1 when he purchased the restaurant, Mathieu wanted to bring it to that point: winner of the Grand Award. All of the efforts of the past years were for this ultimate goal: the extension of the wine cellar, the choice of wines, the visibility. Mathieu had a post-it glued to his computer screen with the words “Grand Award” written on it. It was the objective and the process to reach it through time, a process that was forged by the efforts that were put forward each day. There is a saying that you can go faster alone, but you can go much further with multiple people: this is our motto. Mathieu wanted the prize, so as a team, we earned it, and in four and a half years, which is quite impressive! An aspect that cannot be forgotten through all this is our delicious cuisine, with our chef Jean-François Méthot that gives us lots of flexibility by adapting his menu to our wines in order to create perfect food and wine pairings.
Alfred is the tool used to manage the wine cellar of the restaurant for the past four years. How was this system perceived by M. Sanderson from Wine Spectator?
I can tell you that the visit of the wine cellar with our cellar manager Maxime Desrosiers impressed him. Firstly, by the speed at which we could answer his very precise questions. He wanted to see this specific bottle and Maxime, with the application, knew exactly where to find it and could easily hand it over to him. He wanted to know how many of this bottle we had and the application could instantly give him the requested information. All of this was asked for over twenty products and each time the responses were given in less than a few seconds. At a certain moment, he asked for a very specific product and to make him smile, I asked him “sure, would you like the 750ml version, the magnum or the 3L version”? The visit also was home to various other very precise demands such as the alcohol rates in certain white wines or our entire collection of 2015 Burgundy wines. All of these informations were easily provided by Alfred. He didn’t speak much, but we could see that he was quite impressed. Being able to have these important pieces of informations available at the tip of a finger was crucial. With an inventory that changes quickly every day, Alfred allows us to have, in real time, all of the data needed on our wine cellar.
In conclusion, what do you think will change now that you have been awarded this prestigious prize?
I think that it confirms all we have done in the past years. As I mentioned earlier, we always worked and will keep working to the same standards now that we have won this award; our goal is to ensure the quality in all of our work.
It is important to remember that only 91 restaurants in the world have earned this prize, which is quite an honor. The only difference for us is that now, everyone knows that we were awarded the Grand Award. We will be pleased to deal with clients that will expect nothing less than almost perfection from what we do and this will only reinforce our strive to keep getting better and closer to perfection. People will have expectations, which is normal, but our regular clients, foodies, wine enthusiasts, etc. will all keep coming to our restaurant. Surely, this award may bring forth a surge of new customers, but this is a great opportunity for us to increase our visibility and we are more than ready for it!
Ian Purtell: director of the restaurant & sommelier at the Coureur des Bois Bistro Culinaire