It may have been the Ides of March, but all was collegial as the kings and queens of some of the best local restaurants (The Jeremys Charles and Bonia, Shaun Hussey and Michelle LeBlanc, and Todd Perrin) willingly stepped aside and enjoyed a menu created by their righthand men and women: their cooks in the kitchen.
Organized by Kyumin Hahn (Head Chef at Merchant Tavern) and Stephen Lee (Co-Owner of Mallard Cottage) and supported by The Third Place Tonic and BluntRoll (the maker of all those leather and canvas aprons the talent in town are wearing), “Young Guns” was the first in a series of events conceived to raise funds for the “Newfoundland Young Chefs Grant.”
Tickets sold for $75 a person which will give some lucky and hard working Newfoundland cooks the chance to stage at restaurants off the island by covering their travel and accommodation expenses.
Staging is a form of short-term unpaid internship considered, to many in the industry, essential in a chef’s career and development. It can be challenging to afford to participate in this centuries-old tradition when travel off the island is so expensive.
Staging is a way to learn new techniques, and experience different restaurants’ philosophies up close. This group of “Young Guns” hopes that this grant will not only help individual colleagues but, with fresh skills and new knowledge brought back to the island, they believe their entire industry will benefit.
Low Profiles and High End Cuisine
The “Guns” who executed this fundraiser were not the executive chefs who we know from the press. These are the people who keep their heads down, and prep and cook brilliant food night after night. These are the ones to watch.
The ones who will help to build the next generation of Newfoundland food. Picking up the celebrated but no-drama gauntlet and style of their bosses (those executive chefs mentioned above), these sous chefs worked together under the heat lamps in the Mallard Kitchen with a visibly clear ethic of work, cooperation, and respect which runs through their entire Brigade de Cuisine.
Kyumin Hahn, along with Mia Boland (Pastry Chef, Merchant Tavern), Barry Fitzgerald (Sous-chef, Chinched), Alex Fitzgerald (Chef de Cuisine, Mallard Cottage), Ross Larkin (Sous Chef, Raymond’s) took time outside of their regular work, planning the event over group emails. As Larkin says, “It’s not like we get Friday nights off to hang out.”
“This is the last time to cook with Kyumin” Fitzgerald explains, since Hahn is heading off island. They consider their work, though for different restaurants, a collective endeavour. For this night, they each chose something to hang their dish on: fish, pasta, moose, etc.
Making sure the menu would work as a whole, they then trusted the others to make a contribution that would both stand alone and complement all. To quote Fitzgerald again, “It’s beautiful and it becomes one.”
Watching them in the kitchen build these courses, one after another after another (it was a five course meal consisting of eight separate dishes and six appetizers or “snacks”) you hear no banter, and see no bravado. It is all concentration and cooperation. And joy. Not smiling, laughing, beer drinking joy (that is reserved for after the meal), but the joy of full artistic engagement. In other words, they were killing it.
If you want to watch these talents in action; if you crave the new and fantastical and are intrigued by the texture of “corned moose tongue on alder branches,” the spice of “Calabrian chili nduja,” the delicacy of “raw fluke and snow fungus with brown butter sauce,” the poetry and heft of “bucatini, farfelle, strozzapretti,” and the soft balanced nostalgia of “poached rhubarb with milk sorbet and duck egg sabayon” (none of which was too salty, or too sweet, all of which I hope to see popping up on seasonal menus soon); if that all sounds like the kind of fairy black magic you crave, then look for the next event coming … well … they are still brainstorming in their rare moments together off duty, but I did hear the phrase, “summer lobster boil.” So stay tuned.