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June 30, 2024

My road trip to Ottawa

A few months ago, my good friend Éric and I went on a road trip to Ottawa. I wanted to stop by and say hello to a few of our franchisees in the area and then visit Whole Foods Market on Bank Street, the Moulin de Provence and ByWard Market. The highlight of the day was going to be dinner at a world-renowned Chinese restaurant, famous for its delicious egg rolls.

I enjoy doing this kind of trip from time to time to visit our restaurants all over Canada. I take the opportunity to meet with our franchisees and get acquainted with our talented training staff. They are my head and eyes in the restaurants, and they always seem happy to see me. We have lunch or dinner together when our schedules allow. I’m extremely grateful to all of them who keep a close watch on everything and support our dedicated franchisees. When I close my eyes for the last time, I’d like my ideas to be spread at the foot of a huge apple tree. Every day, with my remains entwined with the roots, I’ll imagine a thousand apple seeds that will one day grow into orchards. That’s how I picture my franchise network.

Since I won’t die any time soon, let’s get back to my road trip! On Highway 50 to Ottawa, I noticed that a caring angel was sweeping away the final remnants of winter while we discussed cooking and food. My friend Éric, originally from Switzerland, immigrated to Canada more than 30 years ago. He studied the great culinary wisdom in his country and worked in the great palaces of Geneva and Lausanne. A seasoned traveller, he scours the world in search of new flavours. His palate is a close cousin to the great Bocuse’s palate. The friendship that ties us together tastes incredibly delicious! We frequently cook together, and we experiment new ways to reinvent recipes and surprise our friends.

Once in downtown Ottawa, we made our way to Bank Street to the extraordinary Whole Foods Market, which I discovered during one of my road trips to the United States. The environmentally responsible supermarket offers fresh, organic, natural and ecological products. I feast my eyes as I stroll the aisles at a snail’s pace. I discover lots of excellent products each time I visit: food, pastries, unusual cereals, exotic fruit, cosmetics, soaps and fish of all kinds. I’m also crazy about their take-out dishes. Since we had just enjoyed breakfast at our CORA restaurant in Kanata, I’m reasonable and only buy smoked salmon to bring home.

Éric has a passion for magic facial creams and spends over a half hour in the section stocked with these miracles in a jar. I’m hardly exaggerating! The man just celebrated his 70th birthday, but he looks like he’s 50. He only eats quality, and if possible, organic food. He’s a big lover of meat, which he skilfully cooks, and he’s an excellent saucier.

I may be an expert in delicious morning dishes, but I have no talent with meat, probably because I eat so little of it. Like my family says, I’m a woman who was raised on Gaspésie fish, who now eats cod from Iceland. It’s the best cod in the world, according to my friend Éric.

Time flies when there are so many things to see and we still have to visit our CORA restaurant on Rideau Street. I thought I remembered the address, but my memory is as old as Mississauga’s former mayor, Hazel McCallion, who reigned for 36 years. I had the chance to meet her when we inaugurated our first restaurant in Ontario, and then a few weeks later at her house, when she invited me for tea. This extraordinary woman passed away just two weeks short of turning 102, in 2023. She was a model of efficiency, and I hope to match her longevity too.

We take a few breaths of fresh air as we stroll towards the huge blue-coloured CORA with its walls covered in pictures presenting a visual history of our brand. In this inviting setting, I have the honour of shaking hands with my franchisee. We take a few pictures to capture the moment and, as is often the case, a few customers approach me and ask for a photo with “Madame Cora.” My heart, like a true queen, loves all its subjects. I might not know romantic love, but my life overflows with love. I have extraordinary friends, brilliant colleagues, well-intentioned franchisees and patrons who have always chosen me.

A turn to the right, a turn to the left. We’re looking for the ByWard Market and its famous Moulin de Provence. When Barack Obama was on his official visit to Canada on February 19, 2009, he went into the Moulin de Provence to buy cookies for his two daughters and wife. He picked the red and white cookies with the name “Canada” written on them. After his famous visit, people went crazy for these “Obama cookies.” The Moulin de Provence sold so many that the shop’s owner thanked the President by donating $10,000 to the Obama Foundation.

We enter the market and I quickly plug in the next stop on my phone: the GOLDEN PALACE. I’ve only been once, some 10 years ago, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since but was always too busy opening the next restaurant. Life goes by so fast! Then the pandemic shut us away and I forgot about my old favourite addresses.

My friend kindly indulges me and agrees to drive us to the old Chinese restaurant. It’s not the type of food he enjoys, and when he sees the building that looks as old as Noah’s Ark, he seems reluctant to set foot inside. The Golden Palace celebrated its 63rd anniversary in 2023, and I’d swear it’s never been renovated. Everything is dilapidated, worn by time and wear. There are two wobbly chandeliers and, in a corner, a decorative cat or perhaps a giant tiger.

All the waiters look like they’ll soon celebrate their centenary birthday, but they are exceptionally polite, welcoming and warm. I’m almost certain they’re all related. Smiling broadly, they present us with menus as old as they are.

I suggest that we order dinner No. 2, for two. It includes two wonton soups, an egg roll each, a chicken chow mein dish, BBQ spareribs, chicken fried rice and two almond cookies. When Éric bites into his egg roll, he swoons. He’s never tasted anything so good! Every dish is delicious, and we quickly make short work of our meal.

I hadn’t told my friend that I was already familiar with the Golden Palace. Since he likes egg rolls but never finds any that satisfy his demanding palate, I wanted to surprise him and introduce him to the rolls that have made the Golden Palace world-famous. They are so popular, they are delivered in two-dozen boxes all over the world by overnight express.

Of course we leave the restaurant with a dozen delicious egg rolls each. I’d only been to the Golden Palace once prior to this trip, but a few thoughtful staff members from our Ottawa franchise network would bring me back a dozen of these deep-fried wonders when they visited the head office. Last night, before I sat down to write this letter, I popped 3 of them into the toaster oven to heat up for dinner.