Voila, traditional French cuisine

Montreal native Steve Tanguay was working in Germany when he got a phone call to become head chef at Maison St. Aubin, a fine dining restaurant serving French cuisine in Sarnia’s north end. He was 21.

“I had zero English and I’d never heard of Sarnia,” Tanguay recalls. “I arrived with my car and two suitcases. That’s all.”

He drove into town on a Friday at midnight and began working at 8 a.m. the next day.

“My first night, we served 83 meals in one night. We were all working so hard and we didn’t stop.”

That night still holds the record at Maison St. Aubin for the most meals in one day.

The 50-seat restaurant was opened in 2000 by Marcel and Eva St. Aubin.

When it came to hiring a chef, Marcel conferred with his brother who had worked alongside Tanguay in a Montreal kitchen and recommended him.

“Marcel called me in Germany where I was working at Expo 2000 and I responded because it was a really good position to have at such a young age,” Tanguay said.

He considers himself self-taught.  “I was told early that I have skills. It’s just a true blessing, a gift you know.”

Tanguay also received formal training through an apprenticeship at CFP Jacques Russeau in Quebec. He uses French cooking techniques such as pan searing meat on the stove, then finishing it in the oven. He prefers fresh, local ingredients and purchases every piece of produce himself at a local distributor.

“I want to touch and smell everything we buy and whatever is fresh is on the menu.”  Right now, that would be asparagus.

His approach to food involves what he calls “a lot of research and development.”

“I try a recipe and, when I find something really good, I work with it and make it my own,” Tanguay said.

His signature dish at Maison St. Aubin is French rack of lamb, which he makes with a dry rub he discovered at a Toronto restaurant.

“I call it my mojo blend,” he laughed. “We use it prior to cooking the lamb. It contains a good amount of kosher salt.”

Fourteen years after coming to Sarnia, he is still at Maison St. Aubin. In a profession where movement from restaurant to restaurant is common, Tanguay has carved out a career at a single fine dining establishment and intends to stay.

“At first, it was culture shock for me in Sarnia but then I learned the language. I like the quiet, the lake, and this is where I fell in love.

“I’d be crazy to go anywhere else.”

Maison St. Aubin is located at 1202 Lakeshore Road and open Tuesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to closing. See www.maisonstaubin.com for details.

 – Cathy Dobson