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July 30, 2020

Samira wake-up

A loyal reader would like to know the story behind our SAMIRA WAKE-UP. It goes like this…

One chilly morning, a dashing man came in wearing a red silk scarf around his neck, a tweed coat and a dark green leather bag slung over his shoulder. In his 50s, with thick salt and pepper hair, nicely tanned skin, dark eyebrows and hazel brown eyes that could melt ice, the stranger hesitated a little before locating a hook to hang his coat on. He seemed surprised by the precarity of our little paradise. He had no doubt heard about our amazing breakfasts from someone and had wanted to experience them himself.

At the back of the kitchen, it was clear to me that this stranger, who was obviously from a good family, was used to more luxurious establishments.

Our Marie, who was dating my oldest son and cared little about a customer’s attire, the thickness of their wallet or whether their big construction boots kept dirtying the floor. Despite her familiar manners and speech, Marie liked everyone and served each customer as if they were the most important person in the world.

- “Where are you from?” she asked straight off.

- “Are you going to sit down?” she continued as she fixed her eyes on him.

- “Will you be having eggs? There are two spots at the counter, sir. Okay?”

- “I would like some fruit…very fresh, if available,” murmured the stranger.

- “FRESH,” Marie shot back. “My goodness, sir, we only have fresh fruit, where are you from that you don’t know that?”

- “Everyone’s talking about you in town,” answered the man chewing up his French.

- “Everyone’s talking about my mother-in-law, not me,” quipped Marie with a smile.

- “She is in the kitchen, it’s her fault we’re so busy. It’s her name outside, not mine.”

And BAM, the mysterious ambassador of apricots approached the kitchen and showered me with compliments.

He knew that we served fruit with each one of our plates, everyone had told him this. All his customers extolled our merits, our creativity and the quantity of our food. And yet he only wanted fruit for breakfast.  

Because, you see, it was his favourite breakfast as a young boy growing up in Beirut. His mom would bring him a beautiful clear plate full of fresh peaches, apricots, grapes, oranges and purple-fleshed figs. A time long ago when his family lived like royalty. A time when he picked apricots from the large garden and shared them with less fortunate neighbours.

One fresh fruit plate after another, we learned the story of this Lebanese immigrant who became a florist and who at the time ran a successful shop on Décarie Blvd. in Montreal.

The dashing stranger became a regular, more like a friend even, whom we called Monsieur Samira, which was also the name of his shop.

And believe it or not, we have been making the dish, containing some 10 varieties of fresh fruit attractively cut, ever since that day Samira visited our restaurant, sometime around the end of October 1987.

In honour of this Lebanese florist, we baptized the dish SAMIRA WAKE-UP, and all those years I spent in the kitchen, each time we served an order of SAMIRA WAKE-UP, I thought of his sweet mother. I could hear her quietly entering her son’s room, I saw her lovingly adjusting a sheet and offering her sleepy child the plate of fresh fruit. And throughout those years, I insisted on offering my customers the best fruit as if they were all my children.

Fresh fruit, carefully washed and attractively cut, is part of our story’s DNA. In the beginning, I was buoyant with enthusiasm. When a curious mind asked me what I was going to do with this breakfast concept, I would answer: Just you wait and see! When you say “hamburger,” you think McDonald’s, right? Well, one day, when you say “Cora,” you’ll think breakfast. 

And do you know what the second word people think of after “breakfast” when they say the word “Cora”? FRESH FRUIT.

Fresh fruit, carefully washed and attractively cut.

When I left our very first restaurant in Montreal to open a second one in an area to the north of the city, I never saw Samira again. I thought of him countless times and of the beautiful fruit plate that his request inspired.

Without the encouragement of my dear Quebec clientele, our fruit plates would never have dazzled our guests in other Canadian provinces.

Without each one of you who read me today, I never could have gotten through this confinement intoxicated with so much creativity.

From the bottom of my heart, a thousand thank-yous to you all.