Taste of Canada

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Appears in the July Issue issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Ever since Thi Tram Nguyen moved to Naperville in 2013, she’s been on a quest to find poutine to equal her first taste of Canada’s famous gravy-drenched fries and cheese curds. She’d been a university student in Montreal at the time, not far removed from an escape from her native Vietnam, which included stops at a refugee camp in Thailand, then Paris, and finally Canada. 

One night her college friends cajoled her into tasting poutine, the region’s favorite snack food. “Honestly,” she says, “it tasted like heaven to me.” 

Unable to find a worthy substitute here in the States, she’s creating one herself at her new spot, Chez François Poutinerie. She double-fries her potatoes, orders cheese curds handmade by a family in Wisconsin, and uses a secret Canadian gravy recipe borrowed from her husband’s family. Diners can try the classic version, plus nine clever variations, including a béarnaise-slathered steak frites option. 

Just as impressive? Nguyen’s workforce. She’s hiring high- and low-functioning individuals with cognitive disabilities, like her son with autism, François, to provide them dignified work opportunities. “I’m risking my life savings to try to start a movement,” she says. “One day, I hope every operator will employ at least one special-needs adult.” 

Photo courtesy of Chez François Poutinerie