Everyone knows Quebec’s most famous dish is Pork Chops Hochelaga. Since its fine dining debut at the ’67 Expo, this classic combination of herbs, spices, pickles and mushrooms has sauced pork chops around the world. At least, that’s what was supposed to happen.
Of course, no one today has ever heard of Pork Chops Hochelaga, nor the vaunted place it once held on the menu of Canada’s most expensive restaurant, La Toundra, at the biggest event in Canada’s history, the 1967 International and Universal Exposition. This unfortunate omission needs correcting: the untold story of Pork Chops Hochelaga tell us much of how a young Canada once presented itself to the world, and what it means to be Canadian.
It’s also a fun and easy recipe that’s historical, adaptable, and delicious.
The Expo and Food
Expo 67 opened 50 years ago to fanfare and hope. Dozens of nations were proud to show off their newest fashions, technologies, and ideas to over 50 million attendees from around the world. There were few opportunities for competing nations to parade their cultural best in a peaceful setting. Each national pavilion promised to be a microcosm of the best of what each country had to offer.
Every pavilion was different, but they all had one thing in common: food. Perhaps it’s the universal nature of eating, or that certain dishes come to define a national heritage. Maybe there’s just money to be made- attendees spent over $85 million on food. Whatever the reason, eating at the Expo meant a lot more than merely satisfying hunger.
The Expo was Canada’s chance to present itself to the world, but this proved a more daunting task than expected. The large, diverse, and still young nation had yet to define itself, and had little coherent reputation globally. Of course the Soviet pavilion featured a display on its many recent achievements in the Space Race, while America highlighted its contributions in film and culture. But for Canada’s national, provincial, and regions pavilions, it seemed much of the imagery presented to the world was up to the planners.
The menu at the Canadian pavilion’s finest restaurant was no exception. It diverse offerings and creative, if not unusual, headings reflect many of the still simmering ideas about how exactly Canada related to the world. Modernity, diversity, tradition, and plenty were all themes La Toundra tried to capture- often at the same time.
The Cold Entrée War
Food at the ’67 Expo presented a real chance to send a message. At a time when the Soviet Union and other Communist countries were asserting the appeal of their way of life, there was no better chance than through that most daily act of eating. And so when the largest restaurant in the Expo- 1,100 seat communal hall- serves Beluga caviar and Tashkent mutton to startlingly positive reviews, it adds a certain weight to their claim. This Communist propaganda piece on a plate also earned the second most money of any restaurant, a fact not lost on the Capitalist press.
It was West Germany’s Bavarian Beer Hall, which earned over $2.6 million, that proved the most popular. At least the caviar-sampling public still had NATO-aligned countries at heart. This victory could also be attributed to the appeal of cold beer: Canada’s own Brewer’s Pavilion, out to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Montreal’s Breweries, had dozens of beers and items like Tourtière with Beer and Yukon Trout à la Biere. It took the 5th spot. The Czechoslovakian restaurant took 4th, having sent a delegation the previous year to prepare the kitchen.
It was in this national and regional jostling of identities that La Toundra, Canada’s gourmet restaurant, opened on the southern end of the Île Notre Dame. At its height, tables were booked weeks in advance, with even celebrities and dignitaries giving up on the chance to experience this new cuisine. It would go on to be the 3rd highest earning restaurant at the Expo.
The menu had three parts: Canadian, International, and La Toundra. La Toundra presented interpretations of Inuit food: Beluga whale meat, buffalo steaks, and trout “prepared in the ultimate manner,” replete with drawings of a hunting party adorning the menu. The Canadian Section represented the natural abundance of each region, more or less accurately: Tourtière, Atlantic oysters, and one Prairie dish called “Stampede Favourite.”
These two oddly organized sections presented a wide, almost eclectic, range of dishes, few of which would be recognizable to Canadians today. But, as Rhona Richman Kenneally and Johane Sloan argue in their book on the cultural meanings behind the Expo, the very hodgepodge of new, old, native, European, Asian, and other recipes was meant to highlight the patchwork of diversity that many Canadians saw as the nation’s true strength. This was the cultural mosaic La Toundra’s chefs and planners wanted to show the international community.
So why did the menu at the Canadian restaurant of the Canadian pavilion have an International Section? And how did this section come to have a dish called Pork Chops Hochelaga?
It’s hard to say exactly what they meant by “International.” Dishes like Black Forest Omelette and Seafood Vol-au-Vent seem to suggest internationally-inspired dishes, while Cream of Mushroom soup and Grilled Sirloin Steak might suggest these were dishes that would appeal to an international crowd. But Canadian Lobster a la Nage is certainly not a purely international affair, nor is Snails Bourguignonne internationally appealing. Perhaps the chefs were suggesting these dishes considered international in Canada, or that they should be known to international diners?
This last conjecture might best explain the most mysterious entry on the menu: Pork Chops Hochelaga, described as a “Modern adaptation of a century old recipe where braised pork chops are enhanced by cinnamon and cloves.” Did the proud chefs behind this enigmatic main hope it would be discovered, adored, and exported the world over?
Despite the abundance of French at La Toundra, this is the only dish that makes reference to Quebec, never mind history, or really anything uniquely Canadian in the International Section. And we do know from interviews in the Montreal Gazette and Expo Digest that hopeful restauranteurs believed international diners would return to their native countries with a newfound respect for Canadian food. This dish may have been their shot at making Quebec cuisine a household name.
Luckily for the historian tracing the roots of this menu item, it is described as a “century old recipe.” This would place its origin exactly one generation after Louis Perrault’s foundational cookbook, La Cuisinière Canadienne, generally regarded as the first explicitly Canadian, or certainly Quebecois, cookbook. It remains one of the most authoritative volumes on Quebec food, and was reprinted (sometimes under other names) for decades. As it was intended for home cooks, its influence on Quebec’s everyday cooking cannot be overstated.
Of course no dish named after Hochelaga appears in the book (the dish is, after all, a “modern adaptation), but the spices listed on La Toundra’s menu provide a useful signpost. One braised pork chop recipe calls for herbs, a good dose of pepper, and clove. If Pork Chops Hochelaga was not directly inspired by Perrault’s recipe, it was almost certainly influenced by it. It’s little surprise that, 100 years later, a more open and prosperous Quebec saw fit to add cinnamon. After all, the world was coming to dine.
Pork Chops Hochelaga may have been a beautiful representation of a Quebecois desire to assert its traditional culture in a modern setting to the rest of the world, but unfortunately the rest of the world did not see it that way. It was not a popular dish- in fact, no mention of its taste, either positive or negative, could be found.
People liked the seafood. La Toundra’s Seafood Vol-au-Vent was by far the most revered dish, even if the whale meat received much of the fanfare. What’s more, the Quebec Pavilion’s Seafood Curry received positive reviews, which only buttressed the Atlantic Pavilion’s claims that Canadian seafood was second to none. But few, if any, came away from the Expo with a newfound respect for Canadian pork. The same could be said for spices.
And so, in the spirit of enhancing Canada’s reputation abroad by contributing to international cuisine, we present our modern adaptation of a modern adaptation of a century old dish.
Today’s pork is much more tender than that of the 1960’s, and certainly the 1840’s, so we’ve simplified much of the meat preparation. The bouquet garni has also been simplified. Feel free to substitute fresh herbs for the dried ones listed if available. And please, serve it with Dijon mustard. Who knows how we’ll update it 50 years from now!
We would like to thank Dr. Rhona Richman Kenneally for her consultation on this piece.