Something’s afoot in Newfoundland and Labrador. The province’s natural attractions have always been plentiful, but now there’s another reason to come— curious foodies are flocking to Canada’s North Atlantic coast to experience one of the continent’s most dynamic, emerging food scenes. The understated capital of St. John’s has fast become the standard-bearer for a new foodie movement. Surrounded by a wealth of wild edibles from the land and sea, local chefs are flexing their creative muscles. Not only can visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador sample the culinary delights at restaurant tables, they can also go foraging in the wild with local guides to discover what the land has to offer.
The healthy cod stocks lured first European settlers to colonise the province in 1497. Five hundred years later, the European influence is back in the form of a new wave of local chefs inspired by the Nordic food scene. These innovative chefs are leading the renaissance by embracing the area’s culinary heritage and adding an exciting twist. At the heart of this movement are the fresh, sustainable, indigenous ingredients.
Chef Jeremy Charles is spearheading the revolution that’s putting his hometown on the map. Jeremy owns two restaurants in St John’s. “There’s a story behind the food,” he says, “You know where it’s come from.”
Jeremy’s customers at The Merchant Tavern on Water Street can experience the freshest scallops, served in their shells and prettily decorated with tiny flowers. Further up the road and overlooking the harbour is Jeremy’s fine dining restaurant Raymonds, awarded the title of best restaurant in Canada in 2014. Jeremy developed his skills in Montreal, Los Angeles and Chicago before returning home to open Raymonds in 2010. Approaching the kitchen like a workshop, he brings a contemporary twist to transform local riches, harvesting produce from the ocean and the land, serving them to diners later that same day.
St. John’s has become something of a hub for food experiences. In addition to Jeremy Charles, other notable restaurateurs include: Todd Perrin at Mallard Cottage (housed in one of North America’s oldest wooden buildings); husband-and-wife-team Shaun Hussey and Michelle LeBlanc’s at Chinched Bistro, where they showcase their passion for, “Newfoundland culture, food and preservation of old ways,” (Chef Hussey is also noted for his skill with nose-to-tail cooking) and Stephen Vardy at Adelaide Oyster House; Andrea Maunder at Bacalao.
St. John’s also boasts an artisan chocolaterie. The Newfoundland Chocolate Company was started by husband-and-wife team Brent Smith and Christina Dove in 2008. Their ethos is to make chocolate that not only tastes great but also tells a love story about Newfoundland and Labrador.
Jeremy Charles’ passion for local produce was ignited by the hunting and fishing trips he went on as a child with his father. Along with many of the other local restaurateurs he supports local hunters, fishermen and foragers who supply whatever is in season. The range of what they bring in is staggering: partridge, spruce grouse and ptarmigan. Snow crab, cod, sea urchin, lobster, halibut, salmon, trout. Sweet and plump blue mussels, scallops and shrimp. Moose, caribou, bear, rabbit and hare. There is a wealth of Arctic vegetation harvested too, including beach peas, Scotch lovage, partridge berries, cloudberries, oyster plants and caribou moss. By establishing relationships with the hunters and foragers this generation of restaurateurs is helping ensure traditions survive, albeit with a modern twist.
One such local forager is Lori McCarthy. As a child, Lori used to watch her grandmother make bread and preserve the season’s harvest for the winter. It was these childhood memories of foraging and cooking on the beach that led her to launch her own culinary excursion company, Cod Sounds. Lori supplies local restaurants, spreading the word about the array of wild edibles on the doorstep to a wider audience. For epicurean visitors who want to get up-close with the treats in the wild, Lori also runs foraging expeditions, where visitors can learn old techniques and discover new ones. After picking such delights as chanterelles and deliciously sweet juniper berries and blackberries outside in the spectacular scenery, Lori gets a makeshift barbecue going on the beach and cooks up a feast. Salivate over mussels on crusty bread, followed by homemade cloudberry jam. Lori wants her guests to re-establish a connection between the field and plate and get nourishment from, “the overlooked, the unwanted and the left behind.”
Newfoundland and Labrador’s food scene has long been shaped by its ruggedly beautiful landscape, coastal location and abundance of cod. Today the province capital of St. John’s is quickly becoming the world’s next major food destination. The movement is telling the story of Newfoundland and Labrador through food: it represents the very heart of what it means to live here.