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Back to basics

A rowboat ride with Chuck Hughes

By Karina Durand

He has the crazy charisma of a movie star, the voice of a rock singer, and the casual look of a skateboarding pro. But in real life, Chuck Hughes is a chef, restaurateur, entrepreneur, TV and radio host, globetrotter, nature enthusiast, and father of Henri and Charles, six and eight years old. He’s kind, spontaneous, and simple, and he’s always the same, whether on a film set, at the cabin with his family, or fishing with his two boys.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Réserve faunique Mastigouche, we invited him to cast his line on Lac Shawinigan. His summer schedule was already full, but because he loves to play outside, he still found time to come and take a rowboat ride with us.

Réserve faunique Mastigouche Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq

Getting back to basics

He arrived at his cabin a little after me. I was waiting for him quietly on the dock, taking advantage of this moment to admire the spectacular view of Lac Shawinigan. As soon as he saw me, he hurried over to hook up.

"Hi, I'm Chuck," he declared from atop his six-foot frame. I was immediately struck by the particular tone of his voice, both husky and warm, which gives him a little something special. We had arranged to meet at Réserve faunique Mastigouche, in the legendary Shawinigan sector, for two lovely days of trout fishing. Sabrina, his significant other, and Henri and Charles, his two boys, would come with him. "Let's combine business with pleasure," he proposed when he accepted our invitation.

Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq

I knew Chuck loved spending time in the wilderness as I had recently heard him say that his latest TV project, Chuck et la cuisine des Premiers Peuples (Chuck and the Cuisine of the First Peoples), had changed his life by introducing him to the ancient hunting and fishing traditions of Indigenous communities across Canada. But I was curious to know if he was a real woodsman and if so, when the transformation took place.

“For as long as I can remember, I've loved being in nature," he confides. “When I was a kid, every summer I would go to a summer camp and do canoe camping for a month. I was crazy about the outdoor life. There was no electricity, no shower. It was tough; we had to portage, drag our tent, our sleeping bag, our food. It was hot, it was full of bugs, we cut ourselves, we burned ourselves, but it was fantastic. These moments of immersion in the forest allow us to connect with nature, but also bring us closer to ourselves. My love for the great outdoors comes from that very experience when I was 8 or 9 years old."

Today, Chuck lives in the heart of the island of Montreal and trips on the hustle and bustle of downtown. But he says he loves the quiet of the country just as much. "I need both excitement and tranquility to find my balance. We live in a world where productivity is everything. We’re so afraid of being in silence, doing nothing. We're all kind of stuck in the same mold. But when you're in the forest, time stands still. Since I've been here, I haven't looked at my phone once," he points out with a big smile.

In nature," he adds, "something magical happens. All of a sudden, you take the time to live. In the woods, there are no schedules, no rules. There’s no mobile network, no internet, so no texting, no Facebook or Instagram notifications, no emails. We're forced to stop and live in the moment." However, he admits that the transformation is not instantaneous. "It takes time to get the city out of our system. It doesn't happen automatically," he specifies.

According to Chuck, in nature, you get back to basics and that's what feels good. "Building fires, getting your knees dirty, digging for worms, that's real life. When you play outside, you get back to the simple things; you get back to your roots," he says. For him, this is nature’s most important gift.

Skiing, maple syrup, and fishing

Being outside with the people he loves is one of Chuck's greatest joys, no matter what the season.

In winter, he’s crazy about skiing. "Rain or shine, at -10 to -30 degrees, we dress up and go to the mountain to ski with our family," he exclaims. He dreams of skiing hors-piste on Mont Albert in Parc national de la Gaspésie with his two boys. "They’re still too small, but in two or three years, I hope to share the adventure with them," he confides.

Summertime? Chuck and his beloved Sabrina stay at the cabin for several weeks with their family. They go there to spend time together and Chuck's mother joins them. "We relax, we play baseball, we fish, the kids play Scrabble with their grandmother, we don't have a schedule, and we get away from it all. The cabin is one of my favourite places to be," he states.

At his cabin, every spring, Chuck enjoys one of his favourite activities: making his own maple syrup. And he does it the old-fashioned way. "We have 25 taps, so we can only make a very small amount of syrup, no more than 10 to 15 litres, which is just enough for the family. When my boys made it for the first time, and they saw that the syrup was produced from the water that comes out of the trunk of the maple trees, it was wonderful. I would say it's one of the best things I've been able to teach my kids. It's time consuming, you have to wait, you have to watch. But the end result is a product that’s one of a kind," he explains.

For him, fishing is of the same ilk. "To catch a fish, you have to be patient. Then you have to clean your catch, cut the fillets, prepare them, and cook them..." he enumerates. In short, he believes that, just like fishing, making maple syrup teaches us patience, perseverance, effort, and the importance of applying ourselves to the task at hand.

Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq

The first moose hunting experience

Chuck has been a nature lover since childhood. But his first exposure to hunting came recently, when he was filming for TV. "I'm very fortunate," he asserts, "because my professional life takes me on adventures that are out of the ordinary and, more importantly, leads me to meet some really amazing people."

About six or seven years ago, when he was hosting a TV show called Le monde selon Chuck (the world according to Chuck), he traveled a lot. “I had a dream job back then," he recalls with a twinkle in his eye. “I was going around the world.” Each shoot took him and his crew to three different countries. From Jordan to Turkey, through Japan and Lithuania, this TV series led him to visit distant countries and to have encounters that left a deep impression on him. "In some places, we had the privilege of meeting Indigenous peoples, like in Mexico, where we were able to share a moment with the Mayans. That's when I realized that I didn't know anything about Indigenous communities in my own country, whereas I had the good fortune to discover Native peoples in other parts of the world," he reveals.

The idea for the show Chuck et la cuisine des Premiers Peuples was born. Convinced that he had an original idea for a new television series, Chuck approached the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). The concept? A Montreal chef with a passion for nature sets out to discover the culture, cuisine, and traditions of different Indigenous communities in Canada. Charmed, the APTN team gave the green light to the project.



This is when a series of great adventures begins. Lobster fishing in La baie des Chaleurs; beaver trapping in Abitibi-Témiscamingue; ptarmigan hunting in Nunavut; nut, berry, plant, and wild mushroom picking... as the filming progresses, Chuck travels through forests, along rivers, and atop snowy ground to visit communities, discover supply techniques, and learn traditional recipes.

“This television project, which is currently in its second season, has changed my life," he exclaims with emotion. It has made me realize how much we owe to the Indigenous peoples. As a chef, I'm always working with meat, but surprisingly, like many cooks and many regular people, I had never harvested an animal myself. I was able to experience it for the first time when I was 45 years old and it was one of the most intense experiences of my entire life."

Intense? We can imagine why. Chuck, accompanied by Fred, Charly, and Claudia, experienced Indigenous hunters, experienced a moose hunt in Mashteuiatsh, in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, in the middle of winter, more than 30 kilometres into the woods. In pursuit of the king of the forest, the group travelled on snowshoes for several days, finally leaving with a magnificent bull moose. “It was a very moving moment," Chuck recalls. “In the end, after tracking him for days, I found that he was smart, impressive, and very strong."

This first moose hunting experience allowed him to reflect on the ethical and human aspects of hunting. "We may have the impression that hunting is violent, that it’s cruel. But it’s quite the opposite. Hunting is based on ancestral know-how that reconnects us to our instincts, that brings us back to our roots, and that makes us aware of all the respect that we owe to nature and to the living being that gave its life to feed us. My first hunting experience also taught me the importance of maximizing the use of the animal, not only in the kitchen. We can use it from head to toe, but also from skin to bone. We can make clothes, shoes, and create all sorts of useful and durable objects," he painstakingly explains.

"I have tremendous respect for Indigenous people," he insists, "and I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for all that I have learned alongside them while filming for this program."

Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq

Follow your instincts

When you listen to Chuck's amazing stories of his hunting and fishing adventures, it's easy to imagine that he wants to introduce his children to the riches of this outdoor world. “Yes, but what’s most important to me," he specifies, "is to give them access to as many different experiences as possible. It doesn’t matter whether or not they like hunting and fishing. What I want is for them to be exposed to a wide variety of things so that they have some touchstones and discover what they really like."

As a kid, Chuck didn't like school. "I'm a hands-on guy. I like to work physically; I need to stay active and expend energy. To this day, I don't have a computer and I could never work at a job that required me to sit for eight hours every day," he confides. So it's no surprise that he fell in love with cooking, a profession that allows him to be creative and work with his hands, while being right in the thick of things. "Fortunately," he says, "my parents always encouraged me in this path, even though at the time, dreaming of being a chef was pretty weird."

He makes it clear that life is short and you have to find what you love to do. "When you follow your instinct and let yourself be carried away by what turns you on, you can go very far, even if you make daring choices. Cooking, for example, has led me to travel around the world, to meet people who have had a profound impact on me, and to live extraordinary experiences. When you listen to your heart, you’re never wrong," he stresses in a soft voice.

Chuck wants his two boys to discover what makes them tick and he says he will always encourage them to follow their own path. "Whether they want to be clowns, cartoonists, or magicians, I'll always back them. The only thing that matters to me is that they do what they love," he underlines.

Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq

The richness of human contact

In closing, I wanted to know what his travels and his thousand and one hunting and fishing expeditions had taught him that was most valuable. "The richness of human contact", he answered without hesitation.

"We live in a completely crazy world," he observes. We call each other on Zoom, we share our lives with Facebook statuses and Instagram stories. We don't touch each other anymore, we keep our distance, we have to cover our faces when we get together. Yet opening up and connecting to others is a vital need."

Travelling, hunting, and fishing, as well as cooking, he notes, is an excuse to meet people, to spend time with those you love, to build relationships. Going on an adventure in the woods is an opportunity to connect with nature, but also with others and with oneself, he concludes. We’re all different, but we are all human and on that basis, we can all recognize ourselves in each other.

And it was with this wise remark that my rowboat ride with Chuck on Lac Shawinigan in Mastigouche ended. Of course, we were hoping to catch a trout or two while spending some time fishing together, but in the end, the fish were just not there. Anyway, we both left with happy hearts, because as Chuck says so well, fishing is just a great excuse to share a little bit of ourselves and to gently connect with those who come with us.

Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq
Réserve faunique Mastigouche
Réserve faunique Mastigouche Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq

Fishing with Chuck Hughes

(Video in French only)

Video directed by Charles Boutin

A flurry of 10 questions for Chuck Hughes

Chuck Hughes

1. If you could serve game meat in your restaurants, what’s the first dish you would put on the menu?

Of course I would like to serve moose, which is one of the most popular meats. But the second dish I would like to add to my menu if possible would be beaver. I would serve it roasted and stuffed with celery, carrots, onions, and a spice blend. Beaver meat is one of the most tender and flavourful meats I've ever had the good fortune to taste in my life. It's amazing how delicious it is!

2. What’s your favorite fish and why?

Bass, because it’s the fish I catch most often, especially on the lake near my cabin. Smoked bass is really tasty! But yellow perch is also a pure delight.

3. What would be your choice for a last meal ever?

It would most likely be plain crab. Or fries. Or maybe even a crab sandwich with a side of fries. I’d be in seventh heaven!

4. When you go to the cabin, what do you like to serve for brunch?

My magic touch at brunch time at the cabin is hollandaise sauce with fresh chicken eggs. You don't have to be afraid of hollandaise sauce. It's not at all complicated to make! You just have to take the time. It adds a lot of character to any dish. Yes, it's rich, but every once in a while it's good to treat yourself, especially at the cabin.

5. What’s your favourite part of going to the cabin for the weekend?

When we arrive at the cabin, we’re excited, we bring our luggage into the cabin, we unpack our things, we settle in. But one of the things I love the most is when my girlfriend and I go for an ice cream together, without the kids. It's our own special time. Since my mom is often with us at the cabin, she can let us go off together and it feels so good.

6. The must-have item in your suitcase when you go to the cabin?

My dad's baseball glove. My dad played professional baseball in the 60's and I've always kept his old mitt. My oldest son loves it and won’t play ball with any other glove. My dad passed away when I was young, but his baseball glove is a great souvenir that I keep and it follows me to the cabin.

7. If you had to choose only one ingredient to prepare a fish, what would it be?

My homemade spice blend. For fillets, croquettes, or burgers, this spice mix gives a nice little kick to freshly caught fish without altering the taste.

8. Your favourite season to spend time outdoors?

Winter. I also love summer, but winter is my favourite season. I'm a big fan of skiing and I love playing hockey outside on a lake. On weekdays in the winter, I drive my boys to school at 8:20 a.m., and at 8:30 a.m., I'm on the rink for a half hour. It's a part of my daily routine that makes me really happy.

9. What's your favourite game to play when it rains at the cabin?

UNO or chess. But if my mom is with us, it's Scrabble. My mom loves it, so when she comes with us to the cabin, we definitely play.

10. Fly fishing or light tackle?

I'd really like to say fly fishing, but I fish light tackle much more often. It's better suited to the waterways I fish most often and with the kids it's easier. But I love the feel of fly fishing and would like to do it more frequently. Anyway, I love fishing!

Réserve faunique Mastigouche

Réserve faunique Mastigouche: already 50 years old!

In 2022, Réserve faunique Mastigouche celebrated its 50th anniversary. In terms of the legacy left by the private clubs on this territory, the quality of the heritage built by the Commodore Club is noteworthy. In fact, several large log cabins have stood on the shore of Lac Shawinigan for a century. Located on an exceptional site and built with the dovetail technique, they are the jewel of this reserve. They are available in fishing or vacation packages.

Find out more about the history of wildlife reserves

Karina Durand

About Karina Durand

Aside from walking alone in the forest, Karina enjoys trying her luck at fishing, grilling hot dogs over the coals of a campfire, reading at the end of a dock, and swimming in a lake when it rains. She has been Sépaq's content strategy director since 2017.

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