Story by Janine MacLean
Vacay.ca Food Columnist
BADDECK, CAPE BRETON, NOVA SCOTIA — The hill that the Chanterelle Inn sits upon is beautiful. Gardens crop up here and there, and on the day of our visit the fields above the bed and breakfast have been freshly mowed, waiting for some kind soul to bale the hay. The day is hot; the sky is bright blue and the stunning view of St. Ann’s Harbour and the North River brings me close to tears. I could stand there for hours, watching the hummingbirds sip from their nectar feeders and the chipmunks steal from the bird feed, but we’ve come for a reason: to forage.
Foraging is hip right now. The world’s best restaurants specialize in it and environmentally conscious diners now look for that magic word while reading through menus. The Chanterelle has been ahead of that culinary curve and can boast that its staff members have been foraging for their restaurant ingredients since it opened in 2000.
The inn’s namesake mushroom is especially sought after in the restaurant community — and is particularly pricey, unless you happen to live in an area where they grow naturally. And grow they do, at the edge of the forest that lines the Chanterelle Inn’s fields. Those golden gems are what brought us to this place, with the promise of being harvested and cooked up for our lunch by the Chanterelle’s executive chef, Bryan Picard.
Before heading out with our paring knives and baskets, we converse in the inn’s cozy kitchen where owner Earlene Busch is making the day’s bread. Pouring us a cup of freshly made yoghurt to sip on, she takes me through the last decade since she opened the doors of the Chanterelle to guests and diners.
“I’ve travelled a lot in my life,” she says. “I’ve developed a lot of sensitivities from my travels — from pesticides used on fruits and vegetables, from the chemicals used to clean and just from the general pollution in the air. I wanted to find a spot where I could escape all that.”
So it was by chance that she came upon the 100 acres in North River, Cape Breton, while she was visiting the island to pick up some handmade furniture. And it was upon hearing about the fungal delicacies growing in the forest that she immediately decided to move to Cape Breton and open a bed and breakfast called the Chanterelle Inn.
Delicacies and Delights of Cape Breton
Using the frame of an old barn on the property, Busch built the inn and subsequently opened her doors not only to visiting tourists, but to hungry residents as well. Locally, the Chanterelle Inn was a hit among diners looking for something beyond the average fish-and-chips shop. Busch’s use of fresh, local ingredients and the inn’s high-end menu was a refreshing option for Cape Breton foodies.
Although the Chanterelle Inn has been open for more than a decade, this past year brought new interest with the hiring of Picard. The new executive chef, a native of New Brunswick, moved to Cape Breton looking for peace and simplicity and found Busch — who was not necessarily in search of a chef. However, Picard’s experience and his similar outlook on food and cooking made Busch want to bring him aboard.
Having trained and worked in Montreal for years and being the recent winner of the Taste of Nova Scotia Cutting Edge Competition, Picard was more than ready to take the reins in the Chanterelle’s kitchen. Some examples of a menu that constantly changes, depending on what’s fresh and available, include lobster bisque with rouille and garlic crouton, Cape Breton lamb and feta peirogies with sage brown butter, and bread pudding with Captain Morgan sauce (what else?).
What really intrigues me, though, are the jars of syrups and reductions made from the local pine trees, the local yoghurt I’m sipping as I chat with Busch and Picard (it’s smooth and creamy, with no salt or sweetness needed to enhance its flavour) and the list of local suppliers on the bottom of their menu.
“The oysters we use come from just down by the shore,” Picard tells me as we traipse through the fields on the way to the forest where the mushrooms grow. “You can just wade into the water and find them yourself. They’re huge.”
With the promise of fresh oysters alongside our freshly picked chanterelles for lunch, we go to work, Busch leading the way to her favourite foraging spots. The time to harvest chanterelles can be anywhere from mid-July to October and the best time to look for the mushrooms is after a few days of rain. We are in luck and find the mushrooms almost immediately although it is still early in the season.
Busch takes us to her favourite spots, showing us the difference between chanterelles and their more sinister (read: poisonous) counterparts, and eventually gather enough mushrooms for two large portions.
We return to the kitchen where Picard sautées the mushrooms in a dry pan before deglazing with a splash of white wine. He seasons with salt and pepper and sprinkles fresh chives over the mushrooms before serving.
“I don’t want to do too much to them,” he explains as he flips them in the pan. “Chanterelles have an amazing natural flavour. I just let them make their own fond in a dry pan before adding any butter or wine. That way they make their own sauce.”
As promised, with the chanterelles he also produces a half dozen of those huge, local oysters. A dollop of nasturtium aioli, a quick bake under the grill and the oysters, plump and juicy, are plated next to the mushrooms — and I proceed to eat the freshest lunch I’ve ever had.
The nuttiness of the mushrooms match well with the briny oysters, and within minutes my plate is empty. Picard knows his stuff. As I gather my things to leave, the three of us chat like old friends. Busch insists on showing me her handmade furniture, built by my childhood neighbour, and I take one last look around the buzzing garden before grudgingly retreating to the Jeep.
Busch and Picard are kindred spirits. Neither of them are doing this for the money, nor for the glory. For them, it is about giving their guests an experience. A locally sourced meal, yes, but a meal one is not likely to forget. The flavours are as fresh as the ingredients they use — and since they get most of their ingredients just down the road, that’s really saying something.
More About the Chanterelle Inn
Location: 48678 Cabot Trail, Baddeck, Nova Scotia (see map below)
Contact: Telephone: 866-277-0577 (toll-free) or 902-929-2263; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reservations: The inn is open daily from May 1-October 31. Call for availability in the off-season.
Menu Prices: Main courses generally run from $22-$26. Check the sample menu for more details.
Accommodations: The cottages are open year-round and prices start at $145 per night. Rooms at the inn start at the same rate and are available nightly from May 1-October 31. Contact the inn for off-season availability. Numerous packages are available, including a culinary deal and a foraging outing in Cape Breton.