In the Kitchen with Robert Reynolds of Edna

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Volume 47, Number 10

[dropcap size=big]R[/dropcap]obert Reynolds grew up chasing the smell of braised rabbit with barley emanating from his grandmother’s kitchen in England. By the age of 12, he was itching to ply his culinary chops in a professional arena. He didn’t have to wait long.

“I started working in restaurants when I was 14 years old,” recalls Reynolds. At 16, he left home to begin his five-year apprenticeship with the Savoy Group in London as part of a Thames Valley University program. In that memorable first year, the aspiring toque peeled hundreds of onions by day, and volunteered by night at Jean-George Vongerichten’s Vong restaurant in the Berkeley, the hotel where he apprenticed. “It was there that I really developed a knack for French-fusion,” says the 32-year-old.

Following a few gigs after graduation, Reynolds migrated to the highlands of Scotland to work at the self-sustaining award-winning Monachyle Mhor Hotel and then across the pond to the Keltic Lodge Resort & Spa on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. In 2003, the “slower, easier” life of Canada’s Atlantic shore wooed him to Halifax to plant roots. “I’m inspired by what’s around Nova Scotia,” he says. “It’s a small province, but there’s so much bounty. The seafood is amazing; it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

Sponsored to become a permanent resident by his new boss, Jane Wright, Reynolds settled in to work at the now defunct Jane’s on the Common; it was there he met his current boss, and Wright’s daughter, Jenna Mooers. “She was my dishwasher at one point,” he recalls with a laugh. “They’re like family now.”

So, when Mooers was preparing to open Edna (named for feminist poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay) in 2011, she knew who to call.
Today, lineups of 50 foodies aren’t unheard of at the 60-seat restaurant that offers a dinner and weekend brunch menu of market-fresh locally sourced comfort food with a helping of seafood. “A lot of my fish are swimming the day before I get them,” boasts Reynolds, who wins fans, and earned a spot on EnRoute magazine’s current list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants, with his elegant food, prepared simply and sold at approachable prices. Customer favourites include the Nova Scotia butter-poached lobster tail with wild mushroom risotto and lobster cream topped with crispy leeks ($14) and signature oysters (ShanDaph, $3 each or Sober Island oysters, $2 each).

Commanding a contingent of approximately half a dozen cooks per shift, Reynolds is proud of his team, crediting his sous chef, Joe MacLellan, with 50 per cent of what transpires behind the stove. Of course, the top toque is still in tune with what’s on the plate, with a culinary philosophy that recalls his grandmother’s comfort nosh. “I love being very honest with my food,” he says. “I love keeping it as simple as I can without playing around with the ingredients too much.” He adds: “Having my own menu makes me feel good…. It keeps me going.”

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