‘ALWAYS the bridesmaid’ is Graham Gartside-Bernier’s phlegmatic response to not winning investment from BBC 2’s My Million Pound Menu. After all he and his life partner Vincent Bernier have been shorltisted for Best Street Food at both the Manchester Food and Drink Awards and the City Life Awards but never won. Seeking £200,000 backing in a high profile telly show is quite a different carton of curds, chips and gravy, though.
“We’ve had time to get over the disappointment ever since we knew we hand’t been chosen to run the pop-up in this week’s programme,” the co-founder of Canadian poutine specialists Blue Caribou Canteen told us.
That honour, two days to prove themselves in the former Byron Burger site in the Corn Exchange, went to a trio of Londoners with their ‘Pilgrim’ concept. Their pitch of Northern Spanish cuisine inspired by the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route so impressed one of the show’s entrepreneur judges, Matt Farrell that he has backed them to the tune of £600,000 to open a restaurant in Liverpool. Also missing the cut was the third set of contestants, offering a dream of high end Nordic cuisine in a replica Viking dining hall.
Which is a far cry from own Arndale Centre, which is offering major consolation to the Manchester-based ‘Poutine Boys’, who found culinary inspiration in the comfort food of Vincent’s native Quebec. In April they will take up a lease on a unit on the Arndale’s south side alongside fellow street food stalwarts Holy Crab (you read it here first). They will be following in the footsteps of street cred traders such as Viet Shack, Fusion Lab and Mac Daddies, who have made the transition.
Before Blue Caribou start the fit-out there’s a further big dream to go for. International Poutine Week runs from February 1-7. Canada-based, it allows prize entrants from across the globe who are cooking the authentic article.
“Wherever we’ve set up stall during the week we’ll encourage our customers to vote for us online and who knows?” says Boltonian Graham, who met Vincent in London in 1999 when their gap years intertwined. Their mutual love of poutine was sealed during three years living in Quebec but on their return to the UK it took a further two years to get their street food business off the ground. During which time they had all their branding in place. Why?
“We just couldn’t get the right cheese curds – it was very frustrating,” says Graham. “There’s no way we could pass off frozen chips, gravy and mozzarella, say, as the true poutine. Anyone from Canada would instantly notice the difference.”
If you have yet to try this moreish snack, the ‘true poutine’ consists of crispy skin-on fries, Quebec-style cheese curds and a rich veal or mushroom gravy. Although Blue Caribou do some ‘creative variations’. We remember vividly back when they were based at B.Eat Street in the Great Northern Vincent road-testing on us an on trial Mexican poutine loaded with chilli, salsa and guacamole. It was great and the essentials were all still in place – chips, gravy and curds.
So how did they finally source those crucial curds, replicating Quebec’s finest? “An old schoolfriend, who has a smokehouse in the Trough of Bowland, messaged me to say they had a neighbour on a dairy farm who might be able to create what we needed. When we finally contacted her she was keen and kept trying different batches until within two weeks she had got it right.”
Now it’s the countdown to the start of their two year lease in the Arndale and Graham has spent a lot of time sampling all the foods on sale there. “When I was walking around I ran into the girls from Holy Crab and they gave us some valuable advice on setting up. Both of us had done pop-ups in Hatch.
“Importantly now this move means we are in control of our own destiny. Not at the mercy of when events are coming up or the effect of the weather. It gives us the chance to showcase more Canadian foodstuffs on the menu – artisan craft beer from there, maple syrup products, Montreal style steamed hot dogs, pogo corn dogs (battered sausage on a stick).”
And, finally, Graham, do you regret going on My Million Pound Menu? “Of course not, though it was strange they contacted us, asking us to apply and then put us up against some nice people but who weren’t doing anything similar to what we do – straightforward street food.
“Still we’re told we got the people’s vote and Jamie Barber (one of the judge/investors) tweeted that we were ‘getting a lot of love on Twitter’ and ‘poutine was amazing’. On the show Atul Kochar complimented us on how well balanced out dish was, which made us proud.”
My Million Pound Menu host Fred Siriex is also a fan, saying: "Blue Caribou Canteen is fantastic. They’re Québec Canadian cuisine and serve French fries, cheese and gravy, reuben chicken - it’s an amazing concept."
See what all the fuss is about from April in the Arndale.