It has already been 30 years since the bountiful April 89 crêpe appeared on the Cora breakfast menu.
The delectably thin crêpe is covered with Cora custard cream, filled with a generous portion of fresh fruit, topped with three whipped cream rosettes and dusted with light, sweet snow (sugar dust).
It was created one morning in, you guessed it, April 1989. A few days earlier, Madame Cora had pulled an April Fool’s Day prank on a regular guest and friend at the restaurant. To make amends for the lighthearted fun, Madame Cora wanted to prepare something special. Her friend requested a crêpe with plenty of fresh fruit. Madame Cora obliged, but took it to a whole new level with the sweet, comforting addition of her delicious cream. It was the very first time Madame Cora had spread custard cream on a crêpe, folding it on a plate. That’s how this fruity star was born.
Happy anniversary, April 89!
Though we hadn’t received permission to serve meals outside, we took a chance and set up four small tables in the narrow space between the restaurant’s front window and the street. The heat inside the restaurant resulted in many customers seeking out these few seats.
My daughter Julia wasn’t the fastest waitress we had, but she was the one who brought in the most customers. Working on the new outside terrace, she had to be good at maintaining peace among the customers as they fought over the chairs. So, on one particularly hot Sunday, she didn’t have time to chat with the English-speaking woman who asked her for a Bonjour (two eggs with bacon) “with two small crêpes with blueberries on the same plate, please.”
“No problem! Would you tell me your name?”
“Why? Why should I tell you my name just to get breakfast?”
“Don’t worry, it’s just because of my mother. She has knack for inventing names for new breakfasts.”
“My name is Rosemary Martingale,” replied the customer, reassured.
“Mom! Mom!” shouted Julia as she came inside. “There’s a Rosemary outside who wants a BONJOUR with two blueberry crêpes on the same plate.”
I was going to settle for saying, “Okay, Julia,” when my daughter insisted on provoking me in front of everyone.
“Mom, aren’t you going to make up a name for the new dish?”
The heat put out by the new cooktop distracted me and I didn’t reply. Since she hadn’t gotten an answer to her question, Julia knocked two glasses against each other in front of my nose.
“Mother! The Rosemary who’s outside deserves an invention.”
“What are you talking about, Julia? What’s Rosemary’s Baby doing here, in this heat?”
“Not Rosemary’s Baby, Mother, Rosemary’s Sunday.”
“What? What, Julia? What are you talking about now?”
“Mom! Let me do it, Mom! The English lady and I just invented a new dish outside. Give me a Bonjour with two little blueberry crêpes in the same plate.”
A few days later, the city ordered us to stop serving food outside. Not too disappointed, we immediately moved the tables. They had already given us an unforgettable breakfast.
The original idea for the Buckwheat blessing dish came from the Americans. One day, long before the first Cora restaurant was even a glimmer on the horizon, I saw a similar dish in a 24-hour breakfast restaurant. The dish was called “Pigs in the blankets” and was made up of three big sausages rolled up in pancakes. This rather heavy meal was accompanied by three syrups: strawberry, blueberry and Vermont maple.
“It couldn’t be hard to do better than that!,” I whispered to my inner Tantalus – the mythic king who was condemned by gods to be eternally hungry – as he was looking through my eyes.
When Jack the Alligator licked his mouth after seeing our buckwheat crêpes, the idea suddenly came back to me. Julia and I talked about it and decided that the little piggies deserved better: a more refined crêpe, maybe made with wheat flour, or possibly delicious sausages in a buckwheat pancake.
My spatula immediately began to flutter on the grill, trying to imprison the piggies in the crêpes. One would always manage to free a foot or tail, or an ear, so Julia decided to add some shredded cheddar which, as it melted, acted like glue and held our pudgy victims in their crisp wraps.
Once they were on the plate, we accompanied our sausages with an attractive mountain of cut fruit. Julia suggested we sprinkle some shredded cheddar on the rolled sausages and voilà! The treat was born. There was no way we could call a Quebecois crêpe The alligator, so we named the dish Buckwheat blessing. Even today, the unusual combination of ingredients doesn’t disappoint. With real maple syrup or, as some prefer, topped with traditional molasses, this dish is an ingenious example of Cora’s magic.
On a chilly morning in 1990, we were trying to come up with a new breakfast to commemorate our arrival on the boulevard in Laval. My daughter Julia was the one to invent the treat that quickly came to be one of the most successful dishes on our menu.
Like almost every Saturday back then, Julia arrived to work late, once again absent-minded from the wild tango she’d danced the whole night before with her friends Evelyne, Maryse, Marco, Caroline, Juan and Domingo.
To escape the double reprimand she’d get from me, her boss/mother, as soon as she walked in the door, my daughter took refuge in a conversation with the baker who was supplying us with the famous cinnamon raisin brioche we’d recently been searching for. Julia grabbed one of the big brioches, squeezed it and decided to slice it through the middle. She then dunked the two halves in the spiced French toast batter and gently laid them on the griddle. The pieces of bread shivered in fear, but little by little they gave in to the fiery kiss of the grill and were transformed into a surprising treat. Just when Julia was lifting the two golden pieces of brioche to place them on a big white plate, inspiration gave my daughter a little push. It made her eyes sparkle so brightly that even Mr. Leboeuf, our new Laval baker, understood that Julia had just had a brilliant idea. She placed a sunny side up egg and two slices of bacon on one side of the golden brioche and decorated the other half of the plate with a big mountain of fresh fruit.
«There you go, Mother, there’s your Saint-Martin special! »
« Bravo, Julia! What a wonderful harvest to come from all the seeds I’ve been planting in your head! »
And that’s where we got the name for the dish, the 1990’s Harvest. The new invention was applauded by everyone who was there. It was immediately offered to the regulars, and in a few days it became the uncontested star among the drawings that adorned our walls.
The Seventh of July breakfast dates back to those first summer Sundays. Since people were used to restaurants like ours being closed on Sundays, those days found our little Cora half empty.
"We absolutely have to find a way to get the cat to taste our bowl of milk", Julia exclaimed one day feeling distraught.
Finally, Fatima, the weekend helper suggested that during the week we use the daily menu to promote the new dishes that would only be available on Sundays. We would talk about them all week long to whet our gourmands’ appetites and encourage them to make the trip to see us on Sundays. We thought her suggestion was great. Now we had to come up with something that was even more exciting than everything else we’d already drawn on our walls.
- It’s easy! declared Evelyne. Cora, what do you think?
The wheels were already spinning in my head. We could make our crêpes differently, or add some citrus zest to make the French toast better, but our customers already thought they were great dishes the way they were.
- What if we served crêpes and French toast on the same plate? What do you think, girls? offerd Evelyne.
- Okayyyy… said Fatima, but it needs to be more exciting.
- Not if we add a nice mountain of mixed fresh fruit, with a sprinkling of snow replied Julia, enthusiastically.
« A spinkling of snow » was what we called powdered sugar.
I suggested that we could also serve the new dish covered in raspberry sauce and the snack bar went wild.
- Yeah! But what are we going to call this treat, boss?
- The Evelyne and Fatima? No, it’s too hard to say.
- It’s not very catchyJulia remarked. What do you think of The Seventh of July
- Why not? Half our customers are Anglophones, and we’ll just have to explain the name and ingredients to the other half. You can count on us, concluded Fatima, looking me in the eyes.
She was right. The success of the Seventh of July we served the following Sunday was so amazing that we unanimously decided to put it on a poster on the wall the very next day, and we began to serve the dish seven days a week to our delighted customers.
I remember the exact moment when my mother had this first spark that would change our lives forever. We were on a boulevard in northern Montreal. That spark soon became a sun, shining its light and warmth?first on one restaurant, then another, and ultimately, upon 130 more across the country.
For my mother, simply feeding people was never enough. At a time when fast food started to replace real home cooking, she made sure that anyone could find an authentic breakfast, made with the best ingredients. But tasting good was only the start. It had to look good too, colourful dishes overflowing with creativity.
Who would have thought that a small, 29-seat restaurant simply named Chez Cora would, within a mere quarter-century, grow to delight over 250,000 guests every week.
To keep it real, you can’t lose sight of your roots. And every morning, there’s a little spark to remind us.
One morning, a man of about fifty, showed up in the restaurant doorway. His face was split in the middle by a huge moustache above an irresistible smile. The man hesitated a few seconds before entering, finally giving in to the aroma of nutmeg coming from a dish of oatmeal that had just been served at the counter. From his appearence, it seemed that he was a refugee from a noble family, used to more luxurious establishments. He walked towards the counter and had to step over old Sarto’s cane to take a seat. For a few seconds, he stared at the crêpes being flipped on the big griddle and then asked :
Some fruit… nice and fresh, if possible.
Fresh! Replied Marie, as if she’d found a tarantula in the sugar bowl. My goodness, we have nothing but fresh fruit. How could you not know that? Where have you been?
And that’s how Mr. Samira came to tell us he was an immigrant florist who was enjoying a certain success on Décarie Boulevard in Saint-Laurent. Samira’s request led us to serve him a beautiful plate of nothing but pretty, cut fruit, no crêpes, no cheese, no French toast. Because that was his favourite dish in Beirut, back when his mother would bring him a small glass dish full of peaches, apricots, and purple fleshed figs.
We named the dish we served that day Samira wake-up because of the Lebanese florist, and for a long time our drawing of it had a row of multicoloured tulips under the words.
The story of our Fruit Magic breakfast dish began in October of 1990 on Blvd. des Laurentides in Vimont, Laval, where we had just opened our third restaurant. New customers arrived in droves, with our parking lot rapidly overflowing as they jostled for places like fish in a trawler’s nets. This extraordinary influx stimulated our creativity to such an extent that even the simplest request might result in the most amazing gastronomic surprise!
So, one fine morning, Martha, a long-time friend and fellow survivor, came in—all dressed up, husband in tow, and hailing me across the restaurant like Princess Diana amid a field of frantically photographing paparazzi. “Cora! Come meet Saul, my dear husband! Oh… and then, could you make me a surprise?”
Martha’s eyes gazed down the dishes listed on the menu, but nothing jumped out at her or lit up her face. Her head was saying “fruit”, but her tummy was yelling for a pastry and custard cream extravaganza... I've always admired Martha’s voracious appetite and the way it goes into such raptures, never resting on its laurels for long.
Well, I began by pulling one of the old sundae cups out of a box of inventory items that the previous owner had left. I filled it with small slices of the best fruit on the counter and doused it all with a pastry chef’s custard cream, thinned out with a little 15% cream. I then shaped a beautiful dome on top using a fantail of sliced pear, thin slices of plums, a small stairway of apple, star fruit, little highlights of blueberries on yellow triangles of pineapple, and finally, red raspberry ‘kisses’.
It was delightful, breakfast in the form of bouquet, honouring the harvest season. But all this beauty wasn’t going to be sufficient to satisfy Martha’s craving, I knew too well... So I ordered a well-toasted bagel from the kitchen, just the way ‘Madame’ likes it, and placed it on a large plate at the foot of the glass sundae cup, next to a thick wedge of cream cheese and a pair of giant strawberry sentinels.
The presentation barely had time to grace the terrace before one of the customers proclaimed:
“It’s magic! Tell Cora that she has magic hands!”
It truly was magical, and ‘Lady Martha’ stood to applaud the newly created delight as it reached her table! Resoundingly, Martha refused any suggestion that an “old name” like hers be given to such a fresh, new creation. Amused, her husband then proposed the name “Fruit Magic”, and, on the menu as just that, it’s been working its magic now for more than 27 years!