Seven Courses for Seven Seasons was a culinary adventure hosted by the Fogo Island Inn on October 12. Rock star chefs from Newfoundland and Labrador gathered and collaborated to craft a menu that was familiar and at the same time, exotic. This was an added treat as we’d decided in July that we wanted to stay at the Inn again in the fall. We’d been counting down for months.
Open since May 2013, the Inn has found it’s legs and carries itself well on the rocks in Joe Batt’s Arm, NL. We were greeted and treated like favoured family and welcomed guests on our second stay. We were repeatedly welcomed ‘back’ and introduced to new staff as though they were distant cousins we hadn’t yet met.
Knowing from experience there would be a lot of traffic on a long weekend and that we probably wouldn’t want to leave the Inn, we elected to drive to Farewell and park our car there, rather than taking it across on the ferry that connects Fogo and Change Islands to Newfoundland. Community hosts met Inn guests at the ferry ticket booth and offered welcome, information and a bagged snack to tide the traveller over until they reached the Inn. We had a beautiful crossing with the sun and the moon both visible. We were met in Man O’War Cove by Fogo Island Inn driver, Liz, and had a relaxing ride across the Island.
The sun was setting on Friday night as we arrived and checked into our lovely Lighthouse class room. Each room is named after an Island off the coast of Fogo Island. This room featured a wood stove, king sized bed and extra high ceilings, meaning more windows facing the Atlantic Ocean. The white walls and furniture are accented by Fogo and Change Island made mats, cushions and chairs. The white duvet is covered by a quilt made by Linda Osmond of Shoal Bay, Fogo Island.
A server followed quickly behind us with a welcoming glass of wine. There was also homemade bread with butter and molasses, a typical Newfoundland ‘lunch’. I can’t think of any more that could be added to such a welcome.
The dining room was very busy on Friday night so we listened to the accordion and guitar music being performed in the lounge as we waited for a table. Local musicians entertain guests on many weekend nights. We were lucky enough to hear Everett Brett and Jason Hoven playing together. Jason also sang a number of songs too. Great entertainment.
The location in the lounge allows conversation with the musicians and the music can be heard in the dining room but is not loud or intruding. We really appreciated the addition of music to the Inn and if we weren’t hungry, could have sat all night just for that.
But we were hungry.
Dinner service was very busy with all tables full when we were seated. This is my fourth supper at the Inn (dinner is served at noon, in Newfoundland) and this is the largest group I’ve seen seated and everything is going like clockwork.
Bryan, the barman and I suspect food and beverage assistant is regularly circulating in the dining room to check tables and service. He helps to bus a table and is keeping an eye on the next table to turn over. The training here for staff, who have mostly never eaten in a dining room, let alone worked one, is great, but seeing the management detail and attention was excellent. So many places either don’t train or don’t supervise and manage their staff. Staff can’t be expected to come into any job and know what is expected of them automatically. They also need direction to handle situations that arise and the acknowledgement of a job well done.
How can you know what your staff is doing if you aren’t around to see it?
Sorry, I almost started a rant there….we’ll leave that to Rick Mercer.
In addition to his overseeing, Bryan stops at many tables and checks in with guests. We have a great little visit and also have a couple of waitresses stop by briefly to welcome us back. Jacob, the Food and Beverage Manager swings by our table too and greets us with his big smile and teases us about the upcoming menu for the Chefs.
No details, but we’re “going to love it”.
We decided on a Scallops with Maple and Marshberry, and the “I had a cap” beef cap appetizers. “I had a cap” references a song best sung by Paddy Moran with or without the band Shanneygonnock backing him up.
Both plates featured locally grown vegetables and foraged wild plants and berries. The several variations on scallops that I’ve had here have all been great. This one is my new favorite, probably until I try the next one. Both were delicious.
We were so hungry after a long day and so wrapped up in the whole experience I actually forgot to take pictures of our entrées but we both opted for local fish. Cod and turbot were both great and with the homemade breads and the late hour, we elected to skip dessert, knowing we had a food weekend ahead (and there was molasses bread in the room).
After dinner, there was a bonfire on the rocks near the Inn. Bundled up in a winter coat and boots we were provided with flashlights to follow the “path” to the easily seen flames. It was a ‘quality’ crowd night when we were there, as the wind was quite brisk and there was no worry of beverages getting warm that night. A few Inn guests huddled around the fire and Paddy Barry played guitar and sang in the light of the flame. Yes, the music is definitely the most welcome addition since June. Thank you Paddy. I’m a fan.
Again, we could have stayed all night and listened to the music if we weren’t so cold and tired.
But we were cold and tired.
Tired after a busy week, a drive, a ferry ride, a great meal and a bonfire set, we retired to our room to find a tray of sweets had been left in by the Inn staff. Good thing we’d skipped dessert because these treats didn’t last long once we started.
The Inn has a lovely Daybreak service that leaves a box of coffee, tea or juice and some kitchen treats to start your day. Saturday was scones with coffee. Orange peel and a berry or maybe a cherry flavoured the amazing treat. Large, and delicious and flaky I saved one for later so I wouldn’t spoil my breakfast.
After a couple of coffee while we admired the ocean and sea birds we eventually dragged ourselves to the lovely rain shower and dressed for breakfast.
Creatures of breakfast habit, we had the exact same breakfast we’d enjoyed in June. The Signature breakfast is an eggs Benedict variation made with flaky biscuits, salt cod and local bacon, topped with poached eggs and savoury hollandaise sauce.
Yes! Just as good as I remembered.
Leo had the Joe Batt’s breakfast with the homemade sausage, baked beans and, of course, eggs. Breakfast service was friendly and the coffee delicious. The locally roasted Flat Earth Coffee was hot and flavourful. In addition to the hot breakfast, there is a cold buffet featuring pastries, breads, jam, berries, cheese and smoked fish.
Is it my imagination, or is this bread smiling? I know I was.
We socialized a bit and checked on activities organized for guests. There were tours with community hosts, hiking and a movie screening among the events planned for the weekend.
We decided to visit the Partridgeberry Festival, as that was our excuse to come out on the Thanksgiving weekend. We were advised to just let the staff know when we’d like to leave and they’d provide a ride to the stadium.
Dinner service was set for 7 so we had a late lunch at the Inn before leaving.
Yes, eating again.
But we didn’t finish the scones or the molasses bread from last night.
Got that poked in a ziplock bags so housekeeping doesn’t take it!
We shared a burger and fries from the lunch menu. Well, it’s not just any burger and fries. A huge lamb burger, topped with beet and a poached egg is served on a homemade bun. I’m pretty sure I recognized Linda Osmond’s homemade Million Dollar Relish on the burger. This lady had many talents. The fries are huge steak fries served with a homemade tomato ketchup or jam. Shared, this was a perfect meal knowing we’d be tempted at the festival otherwise.
Sean gave us a ride to the festival and he and Leo played the ‘who was your father’ game. It’s like a sport in the Maritimes, to see who can figure out first the lineage of the other.
Sean moved off the Island in the 1970s as a child and is now back and working at the Inn. I’m thinking the title might be Doorman but it also entails driving shuttle, maybe as far as Gander, bringing in wood and luggage and lighting fires in the stoves in the guest rooms. Many staff seem to be cross trained and diverse in what they are able to do for guests. Reception staff doesn’t hesitate to shuttle you to your car.
Sean dropped us off and we told him we’d call if we needed a ride back. Seeing the number of cars around the stadium, we knew we could probably find someone we knew heading back to Joe Batt’s Arm.
The Partridgeberry Festival is a relatively new festival, this being the seventh year, I think. A Newfoundland berry, the partridge berry is harvested after the first frost to avoid the presence of insects that live in the plant in the warmer weather. A small, red berry, tart like a cranberry, this berry makes great jams, pies and can be used as a blueberry or cranberry would be used. The festival was great and deserving of it’s own post, to follow this one. Stay tuned.
We ran into many people from Gander and of course, Leo saw lots of people he knew. It was easy to spend a couple of hours looking around and to find our friends who were planning to join us for dinner. They gave us a ride back to the Inn where everyone seemed to feel bad because we didn’t call for a ride. We didn’t need a ride. Sure, this is just like family!
We relaxed in our room before freshening up for dinner. Our guests arrived on time at 5:30 and I gave them a tour of ‘my’ Inn. Starting on the fourth floor we saw the saunas, hot tubs and deck areas. With a brisk fall wind, we didn’t hang outside long. On the way to my room, we saw a staff member coming from the legendary Room 29. She was gracious enough to agree to give us a tour as the room was empty. This is a two storey suite with the bed on the loft. There are two walls of two storey windows facing the ocean and Joe Batt’s Arm.
I can’t imagine leaving this room when I am lucky enough to book it. It will be a room service stay for sure.
Our guide also offered to show us her favorite room, 22. Oh my. I’m going to need a second job or at least another credit card.
I was wishing I’d showed off my room first, but we moved down to room 25 and then to the second floor of the Inn which also houses the Gathering Room, the fitness centre and the cinema.
The first floor features the Art Gallery and the Dr. Leslie Harris Memorial Library. We worked our way to the lounge just in time for the pre-dinner reception and a spectacular sunset over Fogo Harbour. Even the manager had not yet seen a sunset like this one. Mother nature approved. Guest took turns taking pictures from the dining room and hoped that they had the coveted corner table.
Following a partridgeberry punch reception, we moved to the dining room where Chef Murray McDonald welcomed everyone and the menu was revealed.
Having eaten at Chinched Bistro in St. John’s, I was anticipating Shaun Hussey’s charcuterie as a course. Six different Chinched-prepared meats, shaved paper thin, with tastes for the four of us were presented with home made crackers, pickles, olives and a grainy mustard. Prosciutto and sausages including moose salami were beautifully presented on Fogo Island Inn boards. Inn baked breads were also provided throughout the meal. Oh, this is getting fun!
Before each service, the Chef responsible talks about their dish. Chef Roary McPhearson from the Sheridan Hotel picked three of his least favourite vegetables as a child. Carrot, beet and parsnip. The soup trio was served on planks with each soup in a mason jar, typical of bottling tradition to preserve all types of food in Newfoundland.
The soup course led to a lot of discussion. I don’t think any of us had had borscht before. It was good and very vibrant in the colour. The carrot with lemon grass and lobster was more exotic in taste with the parsnip and apple combination being sweet. Each soup was flavourful and we went back and forth comparing flavours until we had eaten three soups with four more courses to come!
I’d seen an aproned Chef Jeremy Charles head to the kitchen at 9:30 this morning. What I didn’t see was him outside cooking our next course over an open fire on the Rocks outside the Fogo Island Inn.
Our table featured one rabbit lover and one ‘not a fan’ who remembered holding them for her father as he skinned them. Hmmmm.
Chef Charles had three rabbit variations on the plate. One a roulade, then a smaller roulade that was more like a paté or sausage and rabbit ribs. This plate had many components and everyone enjoyed it but not as much as Leo. He was hoping maybe he’d get bit off someone else but no such luck.
Everyone refers to their menu to see what’s next.
Chef Todd Perrin tells us he’s salted his cod by using a capelin brine. He’s salted fish with fish. In addition, he’s added some smoked mackerel vinaigrette and spaghetti squash salad. This dish has several ingredients and even after four courses, I thoroughly enjoyed this plate. It was a definite favourite for one at our table and I would love to visit Mallard Cottage someday to see what Chef Perrin offers at ‘home’.
Chef Murray McDonald presented his Mutton and Moss next. Study of traditional First Nations recipes has revealed many plant edibles that are not eaten in modern cooking. Caribou moss is one of the ingredients featured by Chef Murray. Served with a roulade of lamb and braised lamb, this was one of my favourite dishes. The braised lamb was especially flavourful. I didn’t eat all the greens.
I was saving room for dessert…
Again, having eaten at Chinched Bistro in St. John’s, I was anticipating desserts by Michelle LeBlanc. This lady is the most amazing pastry chef and her ice cream brings a tear to the eye. There’s really only one way to end a seven course dinner. Three desserts.
The dessert trio was really a quartet. A New York style cheesecake with crowberry compote and a coconut cupcake with juniper cream cheese and buttercream and a pumpkin bread pudding plus a partridgeberry ice cream. Our feast lasted four hours and everyone is quiet and smiling as we stroll back to the rooms. That was fabulous.
I can only think of one more thing I’d like.
You would think I’m done now, but no, it goes on.
Daybreak box. Wickedly rich coffee and dried blueberry scones. Saved for later.
Breakfast in the dining room was whole wheat crepes with roasted pears and juniper syrup. I added the bacon because who wouldn’t want all the home made bacon they can get? I’m a pure maple syrup kind of girl. We order it each year from Quebec but this was a delicious combination. This is the one I’ll talking about until next time. Leo built his own breakfast from the options on the menu. Home was never like this.
We’d seen a number of the chefs in the dining room so we headed back to our room for a bit. I started reading a great book called Black Ice about the Wesleyville, NL artist David Blackwood while we waited for the Chef’s talk to start. Blackwood is a print maker and the book is a series of essays and interviews relating Blackwood’s influences from the sea captain lineage to the geography and geology of the Wesleyville area. I don’t think the fact that this book was cover presented in my room was a coincidence at all. They are telling me they want me to come back in the winter. They are very hard to say no to.
On Sunday morning shortly after 10, the Chefs were featured guests for a Dialogue about Newfoundland food and the restaurant scene. A number of Inn guests and some community residents met in the Gathering Room, a multipurpose space on the second floor of the Inn. The Dialogue was facilitated with a number of prepared questions. Chefs were asked about their influences, their experiences and the food culture of Newfoundland.
Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage talked about his experience with the Elliston Roots, Rants and Roars Festival which sold out in 36 hours this year. I know, because I couldn’t get tickets.
Chef Murray McDonald talked about the use of foraging and local ingredients in the Inn’s menu. He said there are 20 berries growing on Fogo and Change Islands but they all don’t taste good. Knowing and experimenting with the best ingredients and the best preparations is giving him a variety of local menu items. Some plants were used for medicinal rather than nutritional purposes. Local farmers are producing more variety in vegetables and even quail and eggs.
Shaun Hussey left the Marine Institute and realized he liked preparing food as a worker at Tim Hortons. The chef from Chinched Bistro suddenly became an illegal worker in the US when some laws changed and ended up finding a job on Fogo Island as chef at Nicole’s Café. His fiancée, Michelle LeBlanc worked for the Shorefast Foundation, the charitable entity behind the Fogo Island Inn. They hadn’t been back in a few year and their reaction to the reality of the Inn was great. They’d seen it in principal, on paper, as a model and now they’ve cooked and slept here.
I’ve been following Chinched Bistro on Facebook for a while now and realized last year what a tight community of chefs has developed in Newfoundland. Rather than competing, these restaurateurs and chefs have realized they can share the wealth and clientele and even promote each other. When Chinched was going to the culinary competitions in British Columbia last year, the other chefs helped by preparing a fundraising dinner. These chefs and others have participated in the Elliston Festival and Shawn Majumder’s Gathering. They continue their own professional growth and encourage others. These are very impressive people. Hard working and continuing to develop their craft and push themselves. No one in the room is resting on last night’s dish. They are already thinking about the next time.
So am I.
Sunday was a wonderfully lazy day. The seas were high and we watched them from our room until Leo just had to go out and take some video. He’s still convinced he wasn’t close to the edge but the tablet was soaked with salt spray when he came in.
We strayed from the menu and had a Thanksgiving turkey dinner special for supper. Partridgeberry chutney and the traditional vegetables. We managed to make it to dessert by splitting an appetizer of scallops.
Leo had the deconstructed partridgeberry tart. My dad really enjoyed this when we ate here in July too. I tried the newest dessert, a “Deep Woods smoked Chocolate Bar”. Wow. Dark and rich and toe curling good. Served with a coco-nib purée is its dark on dark so not nearly as photogenic as it is delicious. This is my new favourite dessert.
A cinema is located on the second floor of the Inn. Affiliated with the National Film Board it offers a wide range of possiblities to guests and residents. On Sunday night there was a screening of the first two hours of the mini series Random Passage with Barbara Doran, producer in attendance. I had every intention of going and then we had the fire lit in our room. We both went into turkey coma mode.
The Inn offers a number of seasonal rates for rooms with differing amenities. It’s well worth the price but also, with reservations, open for meals only. Because they’d called early enough, two of our friends who were staying with family were able to come to dinner for the Chef’s night.
We’ve stayed in a couple of local houses and the newest one we’ve enjoyed is the Oasis by the Sea in Stag Harbour. This is a more affordable option as it sleeps up to 7 people allowing a bit more stretching of the budget. The house is a traditional Salt Box style but features all new appliances and furniture.
The house is fully equipped with satellite tv and internet, firewood for a bonfire and a propane barbecue. It’s a great way to make an evening at the Inn a possibility and even provides an water front view. There are so many ways to enjoy the sights and events on Fogo Island.
Thinking of every detail, the Inn provided us with a packed lunch for travel. Sharing the bounty, I was the scone fairy for a few co-workers on Monday.
We had an amazing long weekend and are already thinking about another booking at the Inn, using friends as an excuse. Like other guests, we talk about coming back. Our advantage, it’s a two hour trip.
I’m hoping it’s in the cards.