Salt of the earth is an understatement at Fork. Before service, co-owner and chef Kayla O’Brien goes down to the beach in Witless Bay, fills a bucket with seawater and, before the first customer walks through the door, there’s sea salt for the evenings mise-en-place.
“We’re never buying salt again!” says O’Brien.
Fork opened on May 23, operating out of the Irish Loop Coffee House in Witless Bay, but already O’Brien and her partner, co-owner and co-chef Kyle Puddester, are ecstatic about the positive response from both locals and tourists. The pop-up restaurant runs from Tuesday to Saturday evenings, overlooking the harbour where most of the food comes from.
“Probably 95% of the ingredients we are using are local,” says Puddester.
From maple syrup to duck eggs, produce doesn’t travel far before ending up on the plate. Most of the ingredients are sourced in Witless Bay or Mobile; even the cocktails are shaken with chunks of iceberg from the harbour. The owners have a created relationship with local producers like Stephen and Lisa McBride, who live nearby.
“We have a constant source of goat’s milk, duck eggs, honey,” says Puddester.
Between the two chefs, there’s more than 15 years of kitchen experience. Puddester completed the Marine Cooking Program at CONA and has been executive chef at several St. John’s restaurants including Granite, as well as sous-chef at Blue on Water. Kayla also completed cooking at CONA and has worked in local kitchens like Portabello’s and Exile.
“I’ve worked under a lot of accomplished chefs, which is great for my career, learned a lot and learned how to be efficient and tidy in the kitchens,” says Puddester.
The connection for Kayla at Irish Loop Coffee house goes back a long way.
“I’ve been working at this coffee shop since I was about 12,” says O’Brien, whose idea it was to start their own restaurant. After a six month hiatus from cooking, Puddester wanted to work for himself and O’Brien knew just what to do.
“I’ve always found my way back here somehow,” she says.
Dishes at Fork have Asian flare, but even these elements have a touch of the Rock — the kimchi in the fried rice is brined with sea water.
“It’s a good way to put the Witless Bay taste in everything,” Puddester explains.
The menu changes regularly depending on the ingredients available, but expect appetizers like Bay of Fortune scallops with blood pudding, apple, celery and mustard seeds popping in your mouth like caviar, and main dishes like housemade pasta with duck confit, local greens and tomatoes under a blanket of freshly-grated parmesan.
Hot and crusty mini loaves of bread are to be anticipated and devoured — it’s Puddester’s nan’s recipe, and he hopes to do it justice.
Though it’s considered a pop-up, the dinner-making duo anticipate keeping Fork open through peak tourist season to the end of the year and have no plans to move.
“I spent my whole life in this building,” says O’Brien.
Instead, their goal is to encourage patrons “from town” to enjoy a meal and prove fine dining isn’t just for the St. John’s side of the overpass. Currently they are offering a deal with the Bread & Cheese Inn in Bay Bulls to entice diners on a gastronomic getaway, but they are excited about the local response as well.
“I just think you shouldn’t have to travel to St. John’s for a night out,” says O’Brien. “Hopefully we can offer that here because there are lots of young families here.”