Rock ’n’ roll chef loves working on hogs, of the four-hoof and two-wheel variety
He’s probably always surprised diners with his shocking blend of elegant dining sensibility and rough-around-the-edges biker apparel, but acclaimed Prince Edward Island chef Gordon Bailey has never shied away from fusing unorthodox fashion with eclectic cooking, and now he’s brought his cool mix of biker culinary chic to a brand new kitchen — one entirely under his command.
Once a partner at trendy P.E.I. restaurant Dayboat, Bailey now stands at the helm of Charlottetown’s popular year-round restaurant, Lot 30. But Bailey first decided to join the cooking ranks for unorthodox reasons. Though he loved working with food in an high-octane environment, he was drawn to an atmosphere he calls “bad-ass.”
“I won’t get into clichés and say that when I was young I liked to cook with my mom,” quips Bailey. “I saw all these renegades, pirates and bad-asses, who would drink and party after work. I thought it was pretty cool.”
Bailey has mastered all kinds of cool in the interim. The 33-year-old started out as a dishwasher in his native Winnipeg when he was 14. Having a natural feel for the rhythms and energy of the kitchen, the enthusiastic teen was quickly promoted to breakfast cook before moving on to dinner. Soon enough, he was travelling through Europe, representing his adopted province of Prince Edward Island in culinary competitions and carving out a niche at cooking gigs back home.
Happiest when he’s free of the monotony of routine, Bailey exerts complete control over the stress and movement swirling around his stove. He also exudes mischievous glee when he talks about his unusual Western-style footwear that makes him a bit more of a rock star than most other chefs. “Cooking allows me to do something different every day,” he says, “and I get to define my own rules in the kitchen. It’s my domain.”
And in his kitchen you still won’t find a freezer — Bailey’s mantra is fresh or nothing. But what you might find instead is an impeccably kept, custom-built Harley motorcycle. To Bailey, building bikes is somewhat similar to crafting flavourful, elegant dishes. “I like my food to be clean and highlight a main ingredient,” says Bailey. “It’s the same with motorcycles, except the engine is the main ingredient.”
Lot 30, however, looks nothing like a roadhouse saloon one might find at a Harley Davidson theme park. The elegant decor complements the dishes. “My wife and I designed [Lot 30],” says Bailey. “It’s kind of urban chic. It makes people feel like they’re in New York or Toronto. But it’s not trendy; it’s clean and simplistic.”
When Bailey boasts about the time he displeased a health inspector, who was nonplussed to find a motorcycle parked in his kitchen, it’s clear he’s not your prototypical chef. But while he’s a little off the wall, his food is sophisticated. Bailey lures guests with sweet maple-braised pork belly ($27) and seared foie gras with caramelized sea scallops ($15). And, he says he always serves local fare that hits the plate the same day it enters his kitchen. “It all depends on what’s coming in the back door.”