BoBo Balls are Back!

Benoît Hogue revisits Expo 67’s most popular dish

By Johanne Mercier (translated by Nick Hyatt)

Photo credit – Benoît Hogue

Picture a young, exuberant boy. His name, Benoît Hogue. And a nanny who is running out of ways to keep him occupied, overflowing as he is with energy.

And suddenly, inspiration strikes!

She sits him down on the edge of the counter in the big kitchen while she prepares meals. Fascinated by the ingredients being transformed before his eyes, he offers to lend a hand. The nanny sees a dream-opportunity to calm the young boy down. “I’ve never grated so many carrots in my life,” Benoît Hogue tells us today. “But in that moment, I understood something that would follow me for a long time: that cooking is an act of sharing, of exchange stories, history and knowledge.”

Today, Benoît runs Brigade volante, a catering company that shares extraordinary gastronomic concoctions. He shared a special one on Tuesday, April 25th during the Expo 67 50th Anniversary Grand Celebration and premiere of the documentary thriller Expo 67 Mission Impossible. To the delight of 700 VIP guests gathered at the Place des Arts for the occasion, he revived the famed Expo BoBo Balls. These small seasoned meatballs of Polynesian origin, accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce, were the joy of Expo visitors, who discovered exotic flavours that greatly strayed from shepherd’s pie and pizza! The discovery so spectacular that it’s still being talked about 50 years later.

Photo credit – Benoît Hogue

“I think Quebecers fell in love with the simplicity of the dish, which was centred around pork, the flagship product of our cuisine at the time. There was also the fried aspect, because who doesn’t like fried food? And the sweet and sour sauce to finish… What’s not to like!”

For the Expo 67 menu that evening, I let myself get inspired by the recipes. I tried to recreate some recipes, modifying them to the size of appetizers, so that guests could be taken back to the cuisine of the Expo.”

“The Expo was really the beginning of the culinary adventure in Montreal, with a massive influx of chefs who chose to settle here.”

The openness of Quebec towards exotic and adventurous foods is the genius of our chefs, who have managed to transform Montreal into one of the world’s most important culinary destinations.

Benoît’s story

“I knew fairly late that I wanted to become a chef,” he says. I worked thousands of odd jobs and trades, but I kept coming back to the kitchen. The kitchen was my ally. I did my training at the hotel and hospitality school in Montreal and my apprenticeship in the best restaurants of the time. Then came the first job, at the bottom of the ladder, as a dishwasher. Then I climbed the ranks of the kitchen.

I did everything: busboy, line chef, runner, griller, etc., to end up as Executive Chef for 21 years in one of the most important Crown corporations. Then nine years ago, I created the corporate catering service La Brigade Volante, which specializes in events, while keeping several other aspects of mass catering for companies, and the consulting and standardization of recipes for Food giants.

Photo credit – Benoît Hogue and Productions de la ruelle

His inspirations

“First there was Claudette, Quebec cuisine and hug specialist,” he recalls. “To this day I still use her recipe for old-fashioned raisin pie and her spice mix for my stew. Several other passionate chefs came to work at home over the years, including Russian and Guadeloupean nannies who showed me how to make borsch, an extraordinary dish, and Colombo; and then there was a French chef who passed on to me his passion for meat, mushroom picking and fishing!”

Benoît’s father was a lover of fine foods, which isn’t surprising. He enjoyed cooking classes with great chefs. At that time, the leading figures in the field were Henri Bernard and Pol Martin, who inspired and taught an entire generation of cooks. Gastronomy reigns supreme among the Hogues: every weekend a new recipe emerges, a new dish, always an occasion to celebrate with the family.

Travel is also an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Benoît. He travelled from a very early age with his parents, a pleasure which he renewed in his adulthood.

“These trips have allowed me to immerse myself in the different culinary cultures and customs of the whole world.” Winemaking is also a hobby of his; in a vineyard, he is happy as a king!

But it is at the Brigade Volante where he experiences his greatest moments: the celebration of the senses and a hymn to life well lived, which he considers essential to his happiness.

To learn more about Expo 67, read this article!