Jakob Lutes discovered the calling of the kitchen by chance. While studying mechanical engineering, Lutes realized the career path he had chosen wasn’t right for him. Armed with little direction, except for a desire to work with his hands, the 25-year-old left his studies for a dishwashing job, which ultimately inspired him to pursue a culinary career. “I really enjoyed the camaraderie,” recalls Lutes. “I worked my way up onto the line and still enjoyed it, so I went on to culinary school.”
After graduating from P.E.I.’s Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College, the budding chef held several positions in Ontario kitchens including stints at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Atelier in Ottawa and Bartlett Lodge in Algonquin Park before deciding to embark on his own venture.
Believing the east coast held untapped potential, the Fredericton native returned to his roots to find a site for his restaurant; exploring Fredericton, Halifax and Moncton before settling on Saint John. “Saint John had a grittiness I really wanted to be a part of,” he explains. “I didn’t want to just open a restaurant and serve food, I wanted the restaurant to integrate with the city and I felt Saint John had a lot to say.”
Port City Royal launched in December 2014 in a historic building that dates back to 1877. The history and character of the city — and the building itself — are heavily reflected in the restaurant’s interior, which features exposed brickwork, piping and unpolished floorboards.
At Port City Royal, Lutes produces a regularly rotating menu focused on local ingredients and culture. “There was a time I may have called it “new east coast,” but it’s really just a part of Saint John,” says Lutes. “I guess you could call it Saint John cuisine in the moment.” Several of the current menu items featured include a beef round with white pepper potato purée, blackberry jus and roasted carrots ($32); Donair en Ploy, assembled on a buckwheat pancake ($8) and a vinegar pie served with brandied peaches ($6). To accompany the menu, Port City Royal offers a limited wine program and a rotating cocktail menu, as well as a selection of house-aged craft beers ($14-$28).
As with any new venture, the restaurant’s first year of business was not without its growing pains. “As a new business owner, I tend to just put my head down and run — that’s all I can do to keep up,” admits Lutes. Whatever his tactics, this Maritime chef is getting it right. Just a year in, Port City Royal has already made a name for itself, ranking number-2 in EnRoute magazine’s 2015 instalment of Canada’s Best New Restaurants.
Looking to the future, Lutes plans to continue exploring different takes on Saint John cuisine, drawing inspiration from his team and customers. “That’s part of what makes the restaurant so rich and beautiful,” says Lutes. “It’s a reflection of what’s going on and everyone plays their part.”
Volume 48, Number 11