Matt and Erin DeMille share a love for family and food that has been passed down from generation to generation
Chef Matt DeMille has spent over 15 years cooking with some of the country’s top culinary talent in a number of Canada’s best kitchens: the Drake Devonshire, Enoteca Sociale, Le Sélect.
Living in Toronto from 2003 to 2012, Matt was tired of the adrenalin-fuelled lifestyle of cooking on the line, and with a couple of young kids, the pull of something more manageable, more intimate and personal was strong. Matt loved his work, but he says, “The energy I was spending in restaurants was better focused on my family”. So, in January of 2017, Toronto’s loss was Watershed country’s gain. Now, he and wife, Erin (née Neal) – head of logistics and pastry – known together as Eat with Matt DeMille, are stepping into kitchens like yours to share their skills in a co-working environment where you don’t just eat, you help cook.
But when the holidays roll around, he puts work on the back burner and focuses on playing in the kitchen, creating simple comfort food to share with family and friends who gather at his home north of Belleville.
Christmas Eve is spent at Erin’s family’s cosy farmhouse in Marysville, just east of Belleville. The Neal home is shared by 40 people – three generations of Erin’s close-knit family – including Matt and Erin’s two kids, seven-year-old Leo, and three-year-old Audrey.
Thank goodness it’s a pot luck!
Christmas Day is spent at Matt’s parents’ home in the east end of Belleville. Things are a little bit simpler here, with only eight family members – Matt’s wife and kids, his mom and dad, siblings, and a niece – gathered ‘round the table to celebrate their love for each other and to honour loved ones lost. And to eat. And eat some more.
For as long as Matt can remember, the holidays have revolved around old family recipes, and for this busy chef, it’s still the simple things that make for a perfect Christmas: being around the ones he loves, tucking into a great spread, drinking his mom’s decadent boozy eggnog – concocted with multiple rums, maple syrup, farm fresh eggs and whole cream – Bing Crosby and Patsy Cline on the stereo. On Christmas morning his dad breaks out his ukulele and plays Christmas carols including all the kids’ favourite, Jingle Bells.
Watershed wanted to experience Matt and Erin’s love of the season and of traditional holiday fare first hand, so we asked them to join us for an evening in the old log cabin on Jane Kelly’s farm. Warmed by the woodstove and a selection of local wines, the guests were treated to a DeMille Christmas dinner. The aromas of a country kitchen – of tourtière baking, of allspice and clove intermingled with the scent of pine and wood smoke – served as a welcoming backdrop for a heartwarming dinner shared among friends. As the evening unfolded, so did the conversation around the old pine table – memories, recipes and ideas were shared and accompanied by the sound of laughter, glasses clinking and holiday music.
The meal that Matt served was greatly influenced by his French Canadian heritage. Traditional dishes such as Cretons and Fromage de Tête – a rustic country pork paté and headcheese respectively – whet the appetite, wonderfully, but the star of the show was the tourtière. This traditional Québécois meat pie was simply made, the way Mémère Thérèse did, with farm-fresh ingredients – carrots, potatoes and onions, fresh apple cider, and ground pork – seasoned with clove and allspice. Matt and Erin’s version is tall and deep, rich, rustic, golden, served with le vrai ketchup, a fantastic tomato ketchup homemade by Erin’s mom, and sour pickled beets made by Matt’s mom. It wasn’t just a delicious meal, the tourtière was a gorgeous centrepiece too. But, we can’t give Matt all the credit: Erin’s pure lard crust was beyond flaky and melt-in-the-mouth.
It’s the aromas of tourtière baking in the oven and permeating the house that bring Matt back to his childhood, snuggling cosy and safe in his grandparents’ apartment, as his Mémère – that’s grandma in English – worked at the stove preparing these very same dishes.
And although it’s been many Noëls since Matt’s grandparents have passed away, it’s their culinary traditions that keep everyone coming home for the holidays.
DeMille’s Traditional Tourtière
The holiday season at the DeMilles is all about tradition, good food, family, and good times. Three generations gathering together, sharing stories, songs, and meaningful food; making memories and passing down recipes is what it’s all about, and it wouldn’t be complete without this soul-satisfying tourtière. This recipe is his grandmother’s, but over the years Matt, Erin and Matt’s mom have tinkered slightly, adding more salt and the local apple cider to give it a little flavour boost.
If you’re wondering where you can get some of these great ingredients locally, Matt suggests (for the tourtière) Grills Orchards in Belleville for the apple cider, and Kingsholm Farm in Warkworth, for the pork.
At the Watershed dinner, Matt also served a charcuterie board with selections from La Cultura Salumi in Belleville, and a decadent sticky toffee pudding with maple syrup from Pure 62 Local, near Madoc. No dinner would be complete without sparkling wine from Hillier’s Hinterland Wine Company, a bold red from Casa-Dea Estates Winery and Maple Whisky from Kinsip in Bloomfield.
Tip: both the filling and pastry can be made the day before, then assembled and baked on the big day, cutting holiday stress in half!
3 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp fine salt
1 cup lard
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/3 – ½ cup cold water, as needed
1 ¾ cups peeled, diced potatoes
2 lbs ground pork
2 medium onions, diced
2 small carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp fine salt
1 tsp crushed celery seed
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 cup apple cider
½ cup water
1 free run egg mixed with 2 tbsp water for glazing (egg wash)
To Make the Pastry:
- In a large bowl, combine flour with salt. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in lard until mixture is a roughly even, crumbly texture.
- In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and water and add to flour and lard, a few drops at a time, until dough comes together.
To Make the Filling:
- Cook diced potatoes in an uncovered pot of salted water over high heat until tender – about 8 minutes. Drain, and roughly mash; set aside to cool.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the pork until no longer pink. Drain off excess fat, add onions, carrots and seasonings and fry, stirring often, until tender; about 10 minutes.
- Add cider and water to the skillet of cooked pork and bring up to a simmer. Let mixture simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until most of liquid is absorbed.
- Remove from heat, stir in mashed potatoes and allow to cool to room temperature.
- When ready to assemble and bake the tourtière, preheat oven to 375°F.
- On a lightly floured surface, cut dough in half, roll one of the halves out to a thickness of just less than ¼-inch. Press rolled dough to a 9-inch springform pan, then add tourtière filling.
- Roll out remaining half of dough, cut a hole in the centre for steam to escape, and place on top of filling. Pinch edges of crust together and brush with egg wash.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until pastry is a rich golden brown. Let cool 5 – 15 minutes, then remove from pan and serve.
Tourtière can be made up to 2 days in advance and reheated in a 300°F oven.
Serves 6 – 8
Matt currently runs his in-house, interactive dining company, Eat with Matt DeMille, with his wife, and brains behind the operation, Erin. He also Cofounded the first annual, ‘Food For Thought’, this past September at Tom Gavey Pavilion in Belleville. The event raised over $5,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association of Hastings Prince Edward.
Johnny C. Y. Lam