Reluctant Chef on the Up and Up with a New Chef from Down Under

Photo by Joel Upshall for The Overcast (Cropped)
The food is good. Really good.

Jeremiah Stafford, the new Head Chef at The Reluctant Chef, grew up on a ranch in Dorrigo, Australia.

There he would cook for the weather. Stafford says the rainy, humid climate called for “refreshing and hearty” foods like osso bucco, slow cooked meats with “deep rich, complex flavours.” Stafford had chosen to specialize in the culinary arts while still in high school. After more years of schooling, travel, and apprenticeships between Australia and Canada, he began a concentrated and committed journey through the ranks of an executive kitchen.

While many spend their twenties flitting, Stafford stayed with Fairmont Chateau in Lake Louise for over five years. He accrued steady promotions and an understanding of how processes can make a systematic and successful kitchen.

Deciding it was time to move on, he heard about an opening for a head chef in St. John’s. He had not initially been considering Newfoundland, but after getting the job and driving out with his brother through Eastern Canada and the Maritimes, he confirmed, “Fredericton was okay, New Brunswick is alright. I’m glad I came to St. John’s over Halifax.”

He has been here only two months and already has his new systems and menus in place. Looking ahead through the winter, he believes he can source 50% of the restaurant’s produce locally even in our food insecure city. He is definitely not one of the “trolls who turn into stone,” a Lord of the Rings reference he makes to describe “people that delay implementing new ideas”

If you have eaten at The Reluctant Chef, either in the upper dining room with the more intimate atmosphere and course tasting menu, or had the more casual small plates in its downstairs bar, The Vinyl Room, then you know the food is good. Really good.

The tasting menu is underpriced at $60, and the bar is one of my favourite places in town. You can pick from an eclectic record collection for your soundtrack, and you can wear jeans or a period costume and never feel out of place. It is dark and heady and has captured that rare atmosphere of potential adventure that you hoped for from bars before you were old enough to be let in and let down.

The Reluctant Chef’s standard of product has been established since it opened but, in a tight market, now comes the tricky part. Because being good is not good enough, and great food is not a guarantee of success. But the owner, Tony Butt (the original reluctant chef), sees a way forward. He trusts his staff.

Now, with Stafford, the last piece of the staff puzzle is in and Butt can focus on the bigger picture of the Cadavre Exquis that is his multi-limbed restaurant. The newest limb of which is The Brasserie. Set to open in the next few months, it is positioned to be more boisterous than the other side of the restaurant with mix and match appetizers and “relaxed French cooking with a twist.”

Days may be getting shorter and the long winter is just beginning, but at least there will be one more decent Happy Hour option to see us through it.

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