Using fresh local ingredients, chef Ken Pittman draws from his Asian roots to create the seasonal menu at Seto Kitchen + Bar in St. John’s, Nfld.
“We try to keep it light and have fun,” Pittman says of his restaurant, named for his grandfather, William Seto Ping, who founded the Chinese Association of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1977 and helped organize the fight for reparations from the Chinese head tax. Seto Ping was also an accomplished cook and soon had five-year-old Ken beside him, learning to cook.
“My grandfather [immigrated] to Newfoundland in 1931 and I lived with him [throughout] my childhood,” says Pittman. “Because of my grandfather, I was exposed to many things young kids growing up in Newfoundland were not — unique flavours, Chinese ingredients and styles of cooking. My father was also a great cook and we always had home-cooked meals. So, cooking and making fresh meals was something I was always around.”
In 2006, Pittman enrolled at the Culinary Institute of Canada, where the program’s strong classic French base of culinary education provided him with a solid foundation to move forward in his career. He spent a winter break working in the high-performance environment at John’s Island Club, a private, member-owned club in Vero Beach, Fla. “I learned a lot there,” Pittman says. “You get an understanding of how to work hard, precisely and cleanly. There was no room for error. And you always knew there was someone to replace you if you couldn’t handle your job.”
He went on to work at Tide and Boar Gastropub in Moncton, N.B. and then at Raymonds — one of Canad’s top restaurants. “What I saw [at Raymonds] was exciting — the relationships the owners developed with local fishmongers, hunters, trappers, forgers, producers and farmers. It spoke directly to their philosophy, which was to always look for ingredients that are fresh, in season and native to your region.”
It’s a philosophy that stayed with him when he opened Seto Kitchen + Bar. “Here, I fall back on my Asian heritage and roots, with the flavours I grew up with. But the philosophy is to work with what’s in season and local and work closely with our local forgers and producers to find [food] in season.”
Appetizers include pork belly with coal-roasted cabbage, apple-miso butter, mustard seed and dukkahrashi ($16) and beef tartare with spicy-mustard aioli, ginger, shallot, fermented thai chili, parsley and onion-ash-buttered toast ($18). Mains include charred striploin with crispy rice cake, charred broccoli, soy-ginger vinaigrette, gochujang butter and XO sauce ($36) or the crispy-skin duck with ramen and roasted-chicken broth, soy-marinated egg, seasonal vegetables and winter greens ($36).