Growing up in rural Newfoundland, Murray McDonald’s ultimate dream was to be a rock star and travel the world. “I spent my high school years playing guitar and scraping by in school,” he laughs. “I had tattoos, long hair, nine guitars, two amps and attitude.”
But, when his rock star dreams fell flat, McDonald realized becoming a chef would give him an opportunity to see the world while honing a new craft. Eager to share his love of food, and inspired by traditional Newfoundland recipes, he moved to P.E.I. to attend The Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College.
After graduation, McDonald took jobs in P.E.I. and Ontario before succumbing to the travel bug and moving to Bermuda. From there, he cooked his way to many international destinations in the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, China and Mexico before returning to home soil as executive sous chef at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver in 2010.
But, approximately two years ago, McDonald stumbled across an opportunity to take all that he had learned in his travels back home to Newfoundland to work at Fogo Island Inn, which has since been named one of “Canada’s Best New Restaurants” of 2013 by EnRoute magazine. “To travel the world and make your way back home is interesting,” he muses. “If anyone had told me six years ago that I would be back in Newfoundland, cooking Newfoundland food and winning awards for it I would have laughed,” he adds.
But, that’s exactly what happened. While working at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, McDonald heard about plans to build the Fogo Island Inn. Intrigued, he emailed the inn, inquiring about an executive chef position. “The job was never advertised,” McDonald recalls. “I sent [the email]; four hours later they called me, and here I am.”
Since joining the hotel team in 2012, McDonald has embraced the Fogo Island Inn’s philosophy of honouring the long-standing traditions embedded into its community, and he’s incorporated that mindset into his culinary mandate.
More than just a source-local ideal, the dishes served at the inn’s restaurant make use of products traditionally used in Newfoundland cuisine. The chef cans vegetables as well as preserves and includes wild game on his menu; foraging also plays a significant role in providing ingredients for the restaurant. For supper, the kitchen team prepares a five-course, set menu, which changes daily ($95). In the past, guests have enjoyed salt cod cakes, beef pudding and cod as well as a dish playfully named “a caribou and what it eats,” made with caribou, caribou moss, partridgeberry, mushroom and sorrel.
And, the thirty-something chef is looking forward to creating more, as the hotel will soon house an on-site root cellar, heated greenhouses and gardens. “We’re trying to go back to the old way of how people [here] lived. I’m really inspired by cooking techniques and things that are passed down through the generations,” he explains, adding: “If food doesn’t have a history, it has no soul.”