Story by Michelle Hopkins
ST. ANDREWS BY-THE-SEA, NEW BRUNSWICK — New Brunswick has often been referred to as the “drive-through Maritime province.” But foodies would be remiss not to explore this sometimes-forgotten middle child of Atlantic Canada. The largest of the three Maritime provinces is home to many great chefs eager to tempt and tantalize your taste buds.
The province is also home to many farm-to-table devotees. With fresh seafood like lobster, mussels and halibut caught off its shores, it proved to be perfect for an adventurous eater like me to explore. In St. Andrews and Grand Manan, for example, farmers, chefs and ranchers are friends, partners and cohorts in living an ethos focused on eating food that is local, sustainable and always fresh.
Restaurants were the obvious way to enjoy this bounty.
Situated near St. Andrews By-the-Sea, with breathtaking vistas over the Bay, Chamcook Lake, St. Croix River and the Maine coast, is Rossmount Inn — an inviting, beautifully restored 1889 country property teeming with history and refined seasonal cuisine.
Celebrated executive chef Chris Aerni’s carte du jour depends largely on what he can collect from his on-site certified organic garden, whether it’s the fresh herbs or edible flowers, such as the nasturtium that he harvests after the first frost.
“The nasturtium makes a bright green flavourful olive oil that we use on pasta or to decorate a meat dish,” says Aerni, the proprietor of Rossmount Inn. “In addition, we use bergamot and the calendula pansy to make a syrup for our desserts.”
With the fervour of any organic food evangelist, Aerni can often be found foraging in the 87 acres of forest on his property, heading to a nearby farm to see what was harvested that morning, or meet with fishmongers for their catch of the day.
“Today, it almost sounds tacky to always say ‘local’,” notes Aerni, who received his culinary training in Interlaken, Switzerland. “To underline that, you will never find a Pacific fish on our menu.”
Across the province, chefs like Aerni are igniting excitement in the gastronomy scene. For instance, at Kingsbrae Gardens’ Savour in the Garden and Garden Café, executive chef Alex Haun is considered one of Canada’s rising star.
Like Aerni, this award-winning chef finds inspiration from what he pulls out of his vegetable garden. Every day before he heads to the kitchen, Haun wanders the grounds to see what’s available, then creates artistically inspired plates according to the best of the garden’s bounty.
“I believe in using a simple, honest and ethical approach to food. Less can be more and I think over-complicated dishes can take away from beautiful flavours that can be created with only a few ingredients,” notes Haun, who has been the chef at Savour since 2013. “Being honest means using each ingredient to its full potential and elevate and partner ingredients that complement one another. Ethical is sourcing products from suppliers that provide us with products that have been grown or raised in a sustainable environment.”
Some of the showstoppers on our set tasting carte du jour included Beausoleil oysters, foie gras parfait and a lobster risotto that was simply divine.
“I am constantly learning and finding new suppliers that bring me something new,” Haun says. “During the off season I love to travel and take my experiences back into my own kitchen and adapt them to use New Brunswick products to create new dishes.”
Nestled on the coast of the Passamaquoddy Bay, the iconic Algonquin Resort is an elegant grand dame offering panoramic ocean views to go with its five-star amenities, including Braxton’s Restaurant & Bar.
In mid-July, executive sous-chef Jeff MacLean led the culinary team that fed Canada’s provincial premiers for the weekend. MacLean studied at The Culinary Institute of Canada, widely regarded as the country’s premier culinary school, and previously worked at Alberta resorts such as the Rimrock Resort and the Emerald Lake Lodge Resort. He espouses the same tenet as his fellow New Brunswick chefs — marrying the best fixings he can source to offer beautifully plated dishes that taste as good as they look.
“I get my inspiration by the seasonal availability of products,” notes MacLean, adding he often heads to the resort’s rooftop herb garden to garnish his dishes. “In the summer, I have access to lots of organic produce, as well as the best seafood and blueberries.”
In historic St. John, Italian by Night stays true to what they know best — authentic Italian fare. Executive chef Michelle Hooton’s menu imports Italian ingredients and combines them with local seasonal ingredients to create dishes her nonna would be proud to serve.
“I love layers of flavour, colour, scent and texture,” Hooton says. “I want my food to be complex but not stuffy. Once plated it has to be beautiful, which requires focused attention to detail.”
The Bay of Fundy is dotted with a collection of islands, where locals and tourists escape to from the big cities. Bordered by rocky cliffs and iridescent ocean, adorned with wildflowers and lighthouses, one of the most popular getaways is Grand Manan.
Ask anyone on the island which restaurant is the best and they will likely tell you to head to The Inn at Whale Cove Cottages.
Dining in this quaint 30-seat oceanfront eatery is all about rustic comfort, hearty home cooking — oatmeal bread, seafood risotto, crab cakes, halibut with Nicoise tapenade and rhubarb raspberry crisp — and big, private ocean views.
Dating to 1816, innkeeper and chef Laura Buckley offers a daily menu using local ingredients supplied by several farmers, gardeners and fishermen.
“We already have the most beautiful ingredients available to us, we don’t have to turn them into something they’re not,” says Buckley. “We simply have to prepare them beautifully and let them do the talking.”
A trained chef with four decades of culinary experience, Buckley prides herself on serving high-end, unpretentious cuisine that is highlighted by everything that is grown on Grand Manan.
“I am governed by local island tastes and what products I can get to work with,” she adds.
Leaving New Brunswick, I was reminded that it is a province rich with a community of dedicated foodies — making dining at these restaurants a memorable gastronomical escapade.