Story by Katie Marti
SAINT ANDREWS, NEW BRUNSWICK — It’s not everyday I get invited into the kitchen of one of the country’s rising culinary sensations. (Who am I kidding? This is the first time.) Naturally, I’m a bit star struck, having just spent the better part of three hours working my way through a seven-course tasting menu of which each dish hinted louder than the one before at the genius at work. Now, with 24K gold dust still shimmering on my fingertips from the grand finale — an orange truffle amuse-bouche that I ate in teeny-tiny little bites to make it last as long as possible — I pull myself together and prepare to meet the man behind the menu.
As soon as I enter the kitchen, chef Alex Haun meets me with a warm smile and my favourite of any traditional Maritime greeting: “What are you drinking?”
I relax. This is going to be fun.
I stick with wine, he cracks a beer, and we set to chatting about his steep and speedy trajectory from culinary arts student at the Culinary Institute of Canada on Prince Edward Island to head chef at the newly opened Savour in the Garden in his hometown, Saint Andrews, New Brunswick. As it turns out, his career path has come full circle at the young age of 27.
“This was my very first kitchen,” Haun recalls. “My sous-chef and I both started out here together, in fact.”
He goes on to explain that while, by night, Savour in the Garden offers a new and exquisite fine-dining experience, by day it has served for years as a more casually dressed café, which is where Haun got his start as a teenaged line cook preparing sandwiches and chowders for visitors of the adjacent Kingsbrae Garden.
From there, he pursued his dream of becoming a chef and spent a number of years studying and competing, with a special focus on pastry. In 2007 and ’08, Haun went international as a member of Culinary Team Canada, for which he brought home five international gold medals before returning to Saint Andrews and opening his first restaurant, Savour.
“Savour was a nice small restaurant that I could afford to have,” Haun explains. “It elevated my career and it was great. Now I’m looking to expand a bit.”
Once word spread that Haun was leaving Savour to explore other options, the offers rolled in from across North America. Despite some tempting proposals, he was most drawn to the idea of sticking to his home and focusing on creating a menu that showcases the natural bounty of New Brunswick’s forests, fields and farms.
“To be able to stay in Saint Andrews with my friends in a place I know and love was simple,” he says following the May 16 opening of the restaurant. “They made me a very attractive and competitive offer here at Kingsbrae. I didn’t have to learn new foraging grounds — I know this place, I know what we can grow here, I know how to cook locally and sustainably in New Brunswick.”
His passion and belief in the farm-to-table movement is apparent in every dish: from braised cattails to fiddlehead cannelloni, he is a master at reinventing traditional favourites and introducing new ingredients to otherwise standard dishes. “I don’t like ordinary,” he says with a chuckle.
And, of course, there’s the seafood.
Depending on the season, Haun has tricks up his sleeve for everything from scallops to salmon to lobster, but his absolute favourite, he shares without hesitation, are oysters.
“It’s a challenge, sometimes, getting people to try oysters, but I love it!” exclaims the 27-year-old. “You can take something that’s totally New Brunswick and transplant it into any market — shuck it raw and add a compote or some seafood sauce and it’s simple, refreshing; broil it à la Rockefeller and it’s rich, decadent; deep fry it and serve it with a little aioli and it’s junk food, but it’s still an oyster. It’s so great hearing someone in the dining room say that they tried oysters for the first time in my restaurant and loved them.”
New Brunswick’s New Culinary Star
It’s tough to imagine not loving something that originates in Haun’s kitchen, oysters or no oysters. The menu is sourced from suppliers in New Brunswick, with many of the ingredients coming straight from the gardens at Kingsbrae. Everything is subject to change based loosely on a monthly rotation, so even the most regular diners are in for a few treats and surprises. Each day, Haun wanders the grounds and rewrites the menu as necessary, tweaking dishes and flavours according to what’s available and growing well.
While Haun admits he’s pleased to be where he is so early in his career, he’s constantly thinking ahead.
“For now,” he informs, “I’m just looking forward to a time when every single service goes off without a hitch and we all feel great. It will be nice when we know the creaks of the floor and how everything works back here in the kitchen.”
As for the winter, Savour in the Garden will continue to operate even though the gardens close once the snow flies.
“We can grow so much in a winter greenhouse,” Haun explains. “Obviously the proteins don’t change, but we’ll still be growing carrots, greens, everything in a winter greenhouse so we can continue to serve fresh, local product year round.”
Longer term, Haun admits to having dreams of making Vacay.ca’s Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list. “As a young chef I used to look for Canadian lists like the Michelin in Europe or the San Pelligrino, but there was never anything to go by, nothing that ranked Canadian chefs or restaurants. I think it’s awesome that we finally have something to strive for here in Canada. It’s definitely our goal to make the Vacay Top 50 list next year. I come to work every day thinking of ways to make that happen.”
Beer bottle and wine glass empty, we bid our farewells on this high note and I leave Haun to close up shop and celebrate his opening night success. Wandering back to my hotel, I am as much full of Maritime pride as I am Maritime produce. An evening spent at Savour in the Garden is a fine-dining culinary tour of New Brunswick not to be missed — even if you’ve lived here all your life.
More About Savour in the Garden
Location: At the Kingsbrae Garden, 220 King Street, Saint Andrews, NB (see map below)
Hours of operation: Thursday-Saturday
- Half Tasting Menu ($45) seats at 6 pm
- Full Tasting Menu ($65) seats at 7 pm
Note: Saint Andrews (often called St. Andrews-by-the-Sea) was named the ninth-best place to vist in Canada for 2013 by Vacay.ca writers, editors and photographers. See the full list here. Savour in the Garden and the Kingsbrae Garden are not affiliated with the Kingsbrae Arms, the fine Relais & Chateaux property that is the most iconic attraction in Saint Andrews.
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