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The French immersion summer camp I went to between lakes in Minnesota was in most respects a traditional summer camp: We swam and canoed and played sports and did arts and crafts. But everything happened in French—including mealtimes.
The kitchen staff did heroic things with their mundane groceries: They’d make fresh baguettes, croissants, and chocolat chaud on Sundays—just the kind of simple fare I would encounter a few years later when I traveled to France. The menu often highlighted whichever Francophone culture we were learning about that day; I'm sure Maghreb Night was my first introduction to couscous, and Quebec Night my first poutine.
The rustic charms of gratin dauphinois and ratatouille were probably lost on many campers, but no 12-year-old could fail to thrill at the sight of a giant dish of french fries. Most of the poutine I've encountered since has been coated with gravy and flecked with cheese curds, but the poutine I remember from camp was the opposite: blanketed in a salty white cheese, melted and crispy at the edges, with chunks of dark turkey meat throughout. Could a fry-based dish really be a legitimate cultural and educational experience? It seemed too good to be true.
The cheesy reverse poutine may not have been authentic, but it was a singularly fun meal and made the best of the materials the kitchen had. Plus, it made Quebec seem like a pretty cool place.
- 1 pint thick cut Russet potatoes
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces room-temperature cheese curds (having them room temperature helps the cheese to melt)
- 2 ounces warm chopped up smoked meat, such as pastrami