Chris Aerni always wanted to get back to the countryside. Having trained in Interlaken, Switzerland and worked at the Stella Hotel, Aerni later travelled and worked at the Two Faces restaurant in Melbourne, Australia in the1980s. In Toronto during the 1990s, Aerni worked with Mövenpick, operating the brasserie and fish market in the trendy Yorkville neighbouthood and later overseeing the Marché eateries. Aerni finally got the chance to go back to the countryside when the Rossmount Inn in St. Andrews, N.B. came on the market. In 2001, he and his wife, Graziella, purchased the 18-room, three-storey country inn located on 87 acres at the base of Chamcook Mountain, with views of Passamaquoddy Bay and Minister’s Island.
“I always had this idea of having a country inn somewhere beautiful in Canada — of having a restaurant which would source local fresh Canadian products,” he says.
Aerni grew up in a family with strong ties to agriculture and food. His grandparents owned a small dairy farm in Switzerland where he would spend his summers as a child and his mother practiced organic farming well before it was trendy. He remembers the cherries, pears and other fruits his family would gather to make preserves — instilling in him a respect for local products and the importance of knowing where food and ingredients come from.
So it’s no surprise Aerni puts a particular emphasis on sourcing all of his ingredients locally for the Rossmount Inn and gets to know his suppliers personally. He jokes that not only can he tell diners where their lobster was caught, but also the name of the fisherman and the location of the lobster trap.
Aerni likens his culinary approach to a painter with a changing colour palette. “Our menu rolls with the seasons,” he says. “It isn’t fixed — it changes to highlight what’s in season and what is available each day. Aerni also harvests his own vegetables and herbs from his kitchen garden and can be found foraging for fiddleheads, cattails, high-bush cranberries, chanterelles and boletus mushrooms. Dishes include rosemary-marinated quail breast with French-bean salad and sour-cream dressing ($12); slow-cooked margret de canard with garlic-mashed potatoes, local organic vegetables and a haskap-berry reduction ($32); butter-poached “naked” lobster with chive-ricotta ravioli, lobster reduction, spinach and garden peas ($42); and a sweet-basil pastry cream éclair with rhubarb-strawberry compote and almond crackling ($9).
“If there is a specific ingredient available right now, we are flexible enough to include it on our menu,” he adds. “We have to accommodate the best of the local products available on any given day. I deal with many small farmers and spend time with them, walk through their fields and talk to them about what is coming up. You have to build relationships with your suppliers.”