In a sure sign that summer is just around the corner, Alexandre Poulin, Escapades Memphrémagog’s Executive Chef, has now finalized the menu for the 2024 sailing season. (Cruises start in May.) We caught up with him recently to ask what he’d been cooking up—pun intended!—throughout the winter.

Have you added any new dishes to the menu?

Yes! Because we redesign the menu every year, there are always changes. For example, I’ve added lamb to the menu, as well as a snail and scallop starter, a panna cotta for brunch… I don’t want to reveal too much, but rest assured there will be lots of new things! (N.B. The menus had not been unveiled at the time of this interview, but you can discover them right here!) If you’ve ever eaten aboard the boat in the past, you’ll discover that several of our fresh, creative dishes have been “reinvented”, but they’re always made with local produce.

What is your greatest challenge when designing a menu for Le Grand Cru?

Lack of space! While the majority of the food is prepared beforehand in our central kitchen on the dock, the rest (sauces, garnishes, etc.) is done on board. Le Grand Cru has a tiny galley, so we try to carry as little as possible aboard, but everything still has to be easy to manage for the cooks while “at sea”.

Are there any new regional products on your menu this year?

Indeed, there are! I try really hard to source new producers. In the past few weeks, as I was finalizing the 2024 menu, I met two, sometimes three, people every day, to check out their products. I taste everything! I test everything! That’s what inspires me…

I’ve fallen in love with two local food manufacturers, and I just knew I had to incorporate their produce into my menu! One of them is Chloé of Mycep Ferme de Champignons, who grows the most incredible gourmet mushrooms. The other is Olivier at Le Gars du Lac. His mini-pogos are so tasty that I’ve decided to serve them during the Bubbly Hour cruise. And his “tourtière ravioli” is giving me ideas for my Christmas menu. Believe it or not, I’m already thinking ahead!

What are some of the key dishes on your summer menu?

The classics—as always! In other words, the delicious local products that everybody loves, like Brome Lake duck, trout from Ferme piscicole des Bobines, and cheeses from the Saint-Benoit-du-Lac Monastery. This year, I’m adding Zacharie Cloutier, an exceptional cheese made by Fromagerie Nouvelle-France. For several years running, it has been given the Caseus award for being the best cheese in the province of Quebec! I’m keen to introduce tourists and locals alike to this outstanding product.

It sounds as if you really like to showcase the Eastern Townships terroir?

That’s my priority! Incorporating local and regional ingredients on the menu is something I take very seriously. If needs be, I’ll travel far and wide to source niche products. I estimate that I have around 15 suppliers, all within a 45-minute drive of Magog.

Only 30 minutes from the boat dock, I’ve discovered les Jardins Zone Orange, specialised producers of sea buckthorn berries. I plan to serve this little fruit that I love with a fillet of trout and sauce vierge. They add lots of colour and a delicious hint of sweetness in every plate.

What are your recommendations for “must-try” dishes this summer?

On the Anchors Aweigh cruise (3-course breakfast/lunch), the eggs Benedict are always very popular. This year, I’m planning to offer a super-gourmet version—waffles, pulled duck, asparagus, and hollandaise sauce.

Not to be missed is our very fresh starter of strawberry, tomato and feta salad. And the braised beef with chimichurri on the evening menu is sure to become one of the diners’ preferred choices!