Club House for Chefs’ Coast-to-Coast Tour embarked on a food-and-flavour-inspired exploration of Canada’s east coast via beautiful Halifax, N.S. Not quite caught up yet? Catch the recap of the first three stops, Edmonton, here, Winnipeg, here and British Columbia here.
One of Canada’s not-so-hidden, yet under-explored, gems, Halifax, N.S. is chock-full of fresh, ever-changing flavours, thanks to its extreme seasonality and close proximity to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. With more than 18 vineyards and wineries, as well as more than 200 restaurants, this Nova-Scotian capital is a wine-and-dine destination that had to be uncovered. Our honorary tour guide on this fresh-air adventure was Chives Canadian Bistro and 2 Doors Down executive chef Craig Flinn.
Having spent 18 years behind the line of Chives Canadian Bistro, in addition to opening 2 Doors Down, chef Flinn has built his legacy around the philosophy of “extraordinary fine dining;” approachable food with an elevated, special taste, no matter what’s cooking. He’s also known for his cookbooks Fresh & Frugal, Fresh Canadian Bistro and Fresh & Local, as well as his appearances on top culinary programs such as Chef at Large, Bizarre Food and You Gotta Eat Here.
With an integrated focus on using seasonal Halifax ingredients, we couldn’t wait for chef Flinn to show us the ropes across his local neighbourhood.
First up on his visit list was AshMeg Seafoods, a family-operated fresh and frozen provider of quality, hand-cut seafood products for restaurants. To make it even easier for busy local chefs to get the freshest orders fast, AshMeg Seafoods even takes orders by text.
“We have quite a bit here; fresh halibut, swordfish, tuna, salmon, mussels,” AshMeg Seafoods’ Larry Powell explained, “our fresh haddock is our main seller every day.”
“You’re doing 80 per cent of the work for me when you bring in the freshest possible ingredients,” chef Flinn added. “All I’ve got to do is cook it, put some salt on it and everyone says, ‘oh, you’re an amazing chef.’ Really, all I’m doing is not over-cooking this halibut you caught thanks to your team.”
Following a quick huddle on the water, Powell took the group inside for a show-and-tell of some of the latest catches, as well as an opportunity to touch and feel the different marine creatures; no pinching.
#AshMegSeafoodsFact: The price per pound doesn’t vary between male and female lobsters .
“If the temperature’s right, the lobster can live for up two to three days with no trouble. When you ship them, you’ve got to keep a constant temperature around 5° to 6° — 4° works best for them,” Powell added.
Next, it was time to head from the blue waters to a blue harbour — Blue Harbour Cheese, that is. Run by cheesemaker Lyndell Findlay, Blue Harbour Cheese gets Halifax to “Embrace the Blue” as a top producer and restaurant supplier of artisanal, handmade cheeses.
Inside her small factory, Findlay showed chef Flinn and the team how her operation only requires three main areas: the preparation room, the aging room and the cheese-making room.
“What you see is what you get,” she smiled, ready to show everyone the production of one of the most-popular cheese products — curd.
“We get to taste at the end? That’s the important thing,” chef Flinn asked with a laugh.
“I think so, I can probably arrange that,” responded Findlay.
#BlueHarbourCheeseFact: Cheesemakers cut their curd into strips followed by gliding cuts in rotated directions.
“When you cut the curd, you create surface tension. The more you stir, the firmer the surface gets,” said Findlay, “this process takes an hour or so and firms up the curd, so it doesn’t break apart.”
And yes, chef Flinn got to taste the fresh curd.
A perfect pairing with cheeses of many kinds, chef Flinn could think of no better destination for our next stop than Dartmouth’s Nine Locks Brewing Company. Inspired by a micropub concept built under his Halifax pub, Your Father’s Moustache, Shaun O’Hearn first discussed the idea of the microbrewery with next-door neighbor and cousin Danny O’Hearn in 2004, and they’ve been growing their foodservice relationships in that new way ever since.
“What are a few things a restaurateur should look for when buying beer?” asked chef Flinn. [?]
“Quality is the biggest thing. You’ve got to find a brewery that’s going to supply the quality you want to bring to your customers. A lot of the beer market is driven by a bit of a race to the bottom pricing and that’s not necessarily going to get you ahead,” answered Jacob Saunders, Nine Locks Brewing Company’s head brewer.
“You’ve also got to find a beer that’ll support your food the way you want it to. Everything tastes better when it’s next to something delicious.”
#NineLocksBrewingFact: The difference between an ale and a lager is the kind of yeast used. An ale’s yeast is saccharomyces cerevisiae, the same yeast you’d make bread from.
After the last few sips, it was time to say goodbye and head to the last guided-tour stop of the day, Noggins Farm.
“I always love coming down to the valley and right to Noggins Farm,” chef Flinn explained. “There’s something special about the experience, being able to communicate and see what’s growing every day. Every time I come down here, there’s a new array of vegetables and fruit available. It’s a very special feeling, one that inspires me to cook. I source my menus based on what I find at this farm all the time.”
Family-owned and operated since 1760, Noggins is a top supplier of fresh, raw produce to restaurants, while also serving its foodservice community at the local famer’s markets.
While picking cherries with Josh Oulton, the farmer at Noggins and Taproot Farms, chef Flinn discussed the important communication between farmer and restaurateur and how to best approach needs-based produce.
“If you were going to give one piece of advice to a chef or restaurateur about how to get your great local produce on their menus, how would you go about doing that?” he asked.
“It starts early, so you want to keep the lines of communication open so we can just work as a team,” answered Oulton.
After adventuring to AshMeg Seafoods, Blue Harbour Cheese, Nine Locks Brewing Company and Noggins Farm, the Club House for Chefs team had mapped out a few exclusively selected restaurants where they would join the chefs in creating new recipes to share with culinary creators across Canada.
They kicked things off at The Five Fishermen with chef Greg Balingit. One of 14 plus locations within Halifax’s Grafton Connor Group, chef Balingit’s experiences, including his Toronto-learned global flavour philosophies, guided the savoury inspiration for his latest creation: Asian Pesto Chicken and Pineapple Kelp Noodle Stir-Fry. With the kelp noodles nested in the centre of the plate, this dish is topped with stir-fried cattail shoots, chicken breasts, cashews, cilantro and Asian pesto. Plus, with its green curry paste and coconut milk, this dish has a distinctly Thai fusion flavour profile with a hint of Nova-Scotian flair.
After The Five Fishermen came a visit with chef Justin Floyd of Avondale Sky Winery. An aspiring produce grower with a tourist-area advantage, chef Floyd brought the in-demand tastes of wine country Halifax to life in his Salmon Crudo with Red Curry Mayo, Shallots, Shoots and Kombu dish. Made with Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste, this raw-salad appetizer is best served drizzled with fresh olive oil.
Next up, a tasty seafood appetizer, courtesy of Field Guide’s chef Natalie Rosen. With its prime location in the Halifax north end’s up-and-coming food scene, Field Guide’s regenerated, hip neighbourhood made it the perfect place for chef Rosen to serve up her trendy and savoury Saltwater Shrimp Tostada dish of deep-fried corn tortillas, cubed avocados, saltwater shrimp and Club House Cumin Seed. For that extra east-coast bite, garnish with green onion and sea asparagus.
Finally, it was time for the team to reconnect with chef Flinn at Chives Canadian Bistro for the creation of the final east-coast dish of the tour. Chef Flinn was proud to complete his latest masterpiece with the crew, a Spiced Scallop, Shrimp and Lobster Cake. Cooked in a complex yet versatile combination of Club House Crushed Red Pepper, ground cumin and the queen of spice, ground cardamom, this seafood dream on a plate is served with a Club House Sriracha and Lime aioli and Hana-Tsunomata Cashew Coleslaw.
Be sure to join in on the fun and findings of Club House for Chefs’ Coast-to-Coast Tour on Instagram @CH4Chefs / #CHCoast2Coast. Coming up, the spice squad will be completing its cross-Canada journey in the cuisine capital of Quebec — Montreal.