Canadian legislators have tried to settle the longstanding tensions between Quebec and the nation's English-speaking provinces with laws and elaborate cultural exchanges, but Vancouver resident Alexandre Brabant thinks politicians have underestimated the value of poutine.
"It's a really ambitious plan," Brabant says of his goal to unite the country with a blowout poutine festival this weekend. "The government over decades has tried to do this, but I have a grass-roots approach."
"Canadians like to go to Quebec because it's different, but they don't understand Frenchies," continues Brabant, who was born in Quebec. "Hey dudes, maybe if you party with them, you'll understand them better."
Brabant last year threw a small-scale poutine party, but the festivities soured after his fryers failed. For Saturday's event, he's secured commercial fryers and the goodwill of a city that's eager to embrace any cause that comes coated in gravy and cheese.
"It's not just Frenchies who responded to this event," Brabant says. "It's people from all over. People on the radio are talking about it. People say 'Alex, did you hear about this poutine festival?' I say, 'Hey, I invented it. This is my show!'"
The centerpiece of the festival is a poutine contest in which 10 amateur cooks will compete to create the most original poutine. Entries are likely to stray widely from the traditional poutine concept, since all that's required of submitted dishes is a "potato-like sort of ingredient", "cheese of some form" and "sauce."
"It's going to be quite crazy," Brabant says. "You don't throw a poutine festival just to eat regular poutines."
A few of the contestants are planning to present poutines made with Asian ingredients, which strikes Brabant as a quintessentially West Coast innovation. A Chinese-style poutine will feature potatoes fried in duck fat and glazed duck meat, although Brabant wasn't sure what sort of cheese would complete the dish. "I'm not a cook, I'm an event director," he pleads.
Tickets to the evening portion of the program are sold out, but the daytime activities - including a citywide poutine crawl and a temporary tattoo station - don't require tickets.
"I'm still puzzled by the response," Brabant says. "Maybe it's more fun to eat poutine in a group than eat poutine by yourself."