Chef Kyle Panton never forgets where his ingredients come from. When not custom-carving steaks for the patrons at Charlottetown’s Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar — lauded for its on-site wet- and dry-aged beef — the locavore hobnobs with area fishermen and farmers. “They have a hard job, and sometimes people forget that,” says the 27-year-old executive chef. “If it wasn’t for the guys and girls pulling the oysters up and stripping the mussel socks, and the farmers getting up early every day to feed the livestock to produce this beautiful seafood, beef and chicken, my job would be a lot harder and not as much fun.”
Indeed, the farm-to-table movement is more than just rhetoric for Panton. This year he and his friend opened One Vision Farms, a five-acre market garden in Belfast, P.E.I., which supplies much of the produce to Sims, among others. And, though Panton loves orchestrating the workings of his bustling kitchen, he’d contentedly settle into farm life. “On Tuesdays, I work on the farm from seven in the morning until six at night,” he explains. “We’re trying to be as organic as possible, so we’re pulling weeds by hand, we’re picking bugs by hand, harvesting; a little bit of everything.”
When not toiling his plot, Panton can be found at Sims experimenting with complex flavours and new plating methods. The 130-seat dining room and 50-seat patio are full every night during peak summer months, and loyal islanders keep the place hopping year-round. Customer favourites include grilled beef tenderloin stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped with double-smoked bacon and finished with a pepper-port reduction ($14) as well as a six-ounce tenderloin crusted with smoky-gouda, black-garlic cheese and served with starch and veggies ($39).
Panton’s culinary journey was kick-started more than a decade ago assembling sandwiches at his mother’s diner. After graduating from Charlottetown’s Culinary Institute of Canada in 2008, he spent a couple of years finessing his skills as a grill cook at Sims and as a restaurant chef at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis in Alberta. And, though he loves travelling to research the latest food trends, his heart remains rooted in the east. “I’m from here, and I know a lot of the local fishermen and a lot of the local farmers, so that helps me serve more local,” he explains.
His passion for homegrown flavours has garnered him several accolades, including the P.E.I. Flavours Local Food Award in 2012 and the International Chowder award in 2013. Along with two additional chowder awards this year, Panton won the P.E.I. Burger Love award and sold nearly 4,000 burgers at Sims in April alone. His Gatsby burger ($16) — comprising a seven-ounce beef patty, chipotle barbecue aioli, braised barbecue boneless pork ribs, maple-chipotle bacon, sautéed mushrooms and pea shoots on a cornmeal bun — took top prize; a luscious and meaty celebration of P.E.I.’s bounty.