Macaron mania: new shop offers more gourmet food options to Whitehorse

Stepping into Sylvain Belmondo's gourmet food store is like finding yourself in a small shop in southern France. Hanging aged meats cover the walls, terrines tempt the palate.

Stepping into Sylvain Belmondo’s gourmet food store is like finding yourself in a small shop in southern France.

Hanging aged meats cover the walls, terrines tempt the palate and an excited owner waits to describe where his artisanal products come from.

Belmondo opened The Gourmet – Fine Delicatessen in Horwood’s Mall on Wednesday afternoon.

Without any fanfare, he sold out of macarons – a sweet confection made of egg whites, sugar and buttercream sandwiched between two cookies – within a few hours.

Belmondo said he was surprised at how quickly word-of-mouth spread, and had to order more from the company he deals with in Quebec.

The gluten-free treats, which come in 22 different flavours, are addictive, bite-sized snacks. Not to be confused with macaroons, which are similar but made with coconut.

“What I sell are festive products,” said Belmondo, “and they’re not for everyday consumption.”

“I offer symbols of my culture. The success of a business is in the detail – the location, the products, but also the prices.”

Some of the products are more obscure than others. You can find fish soup for example, a staple of Bretons who live in northwestern France.

Or you can buy cassoulet, a rich, slow-cooked casserole from southern France, and a specialty in Spain’s Basque region.

Italian pasta comes from a small village near the island of Capri, called Gragnano.

Conventional pasta dries for about 30 minutes, while Di Martino pasta is dried for 50 hours.

“You can really taste the difference,” Belmondo said, talking about his passion for Italian cuisine.

For those with a sweet tooth, Belmondo brought in a variety of Belgian chocolates and French candy.

Last week, an Australian and Canadian couple walked by Belmondo’s store as he was setting up, and saw the Dolfin brand of chocolates.

They were stunned, Belmondo said, as they’d just returned from Belgium and weren’t expecting to find them in Whitehorse.

Anis, small mints that come in different flavours, were first created by monks in the late 16th century as a precursor to toothpaste.

“They haven’t changed the recipe in over 500 years,” Belmondo said, a testament to its continued popularity in France.

He also purchased a pair of refrigerated display cases especially for chocolates he’s ordering in from Toronto.

Made by a Swiss chocolate master, they need to be kept at a temperature between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius, he explained.

He’s also waiting for his teas – all 60 varieties – to arrive from a small, family-owned business in Ontario.

Other products include jams infused with flower petals, such as violets and roses, as well as vinegars made with champagne.

“People think a gourmet store is more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be,” he said. “I think my prices are very reasonable.”

Belmondo said it was a long road to open his business.

He and his partner moved to the Yukon about six and a half years ago.

“I thought it would be easier to open a business here than in France, but it’s the opposite,” he said, adding that bank loans are a trickier process here.

“Thankfully I got a lot of help from someone at the CIBC, as well as the owners of the mall itself,” he added.

Belmondo spent his formative years and early adult life studying cuisine and fashion in France.

He comes from a region he calls the “golden triangle,” an area between Lyon, France and Geneva, Switzerland where many of the country’s top chefs originate.

“That’s where all the French cuisine happens – it was hard to leave,” he said, with a tinge of nostalgia.

He learned how to manage a hotel “from A to Z,” and became a certified wine specialist.

He ran a boutique in Chamonix, an idyllic ski resort near the French border with Switzerland and Italy, for eight years.

“I’d still be there today, I think, but sometimes in life you have to make compromises,” he said.

“When you’ve worked in fashion it’s not exactly easy to move to the Yukon. But I’ve learned to love it here.”

Belmondo said he tries to sell Canadian products whenever possible. But trade barriers between provinces and territories make it harder.

For example, he says he can’t order foie gras or sausages from Quebec – it has to come from France instead.

“Improving those laws would make it a lot easier for small businesses,” he said, “and would create a lot more jobs.”

For now, Belmondo said he’s excited about the store’s potential. If Wednesday afternoon was any indication, he’s off to a good start.

Just don’t walk in with an empty stomach.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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