Sep
29
2011

Interview with Todd Perrin of Top Chef Canada

Todd Perrin has been behind the stoves at some of St. John’s best restaurants but it took a stint on reality show Top Chef Canada to make him a household name.

Now the 42-year-old is stopped on the street by fans who want his autograph, and can’t accommodate all of the diners who’d like to sample his locally-inspired cuisine.

The Newfoundland native lives in funky Quidi Vidi village with his family, and cooks at his parent’s B&B, The Chef’s Inn, downtown on colourful Gower Street. In addition to his daily breakfasts, Perrin serves four-course dinners every Monday and Thursday nights, but you’ll have to book a room at the inn to guarantee a reservation!

HOW DID YOU BECOME A CHEF?

I started cooking later in life. I banged around a bit. My mom and dad owned a bookstore and I worked in the bookstore, which is where I met Mrs. Darcy, she was the food columnist for the Telegram. She would come into the store, and we’d talk about food. She said "You should go to cooking school," so I went to the CIC (Culinary Institute of Canada) in Charlottetown. My mom’s a good cook - that thing people always say, it’s true - and I love to eat, totally, but Mrs. Darcy was really the impetus for my cooking career.

WHERE HAVE YOU COOKED?

I worked at the Lodge at Kananaskis in Alberta and at a small private hotel in Switzerland. I also worked at The Church in Stratford, and with Jonathan Gushue at Langdon Hall. And I had my own restaurant here (in St. John’s) called Two Chefs, which made it onto some top restaurant lists.

DESCRIBE YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY/STYLE?

For me, less is more when it comes to food. It’s a bit of a cliché now but I’m a big believer that you take the very best ingredients and do as little as possible – the best vegetables right out of my garden, the freshest fish from the sea. The Newfoundland way has always been about local, organic food, without even knowing about it, just living from the back yard.

WHAT COULD WE EXPECT ON A TODD PERRIN MENU AT THE CHEF’S INN?

This week we had the first dinner solely from the garden – I didn’t buy anything. I forage and I grow as much as I can. I had cod on the menu, my neighbour down home went out for the food fishery and got me some cod. We had baby potatoes with garlic scapes and seared scallops. The second course was a cold lobster salad with greens and baby herbs out of the garden. For the main, I did a chanterelle and bacon ragout with seared cod. And for dessert we had fresh wild berries with dark rum and lemon shortbread. Typically it’s just $50 p.p. (BYOB).

ON TOP CHEF CANADA, YOU ALWAYS INCLUDED SOMETHING FROM NEWFOUNDLAND IN YOUR DISHES – WHAT’S THE STRANGEST INGREDIENT YOU USED?

I cooked a seal flipper slider on the first show. I’m certain no one’s ever made seal flipper like that. The tradition is seal flipper pie – no one cooks it any other way. But, I did a pulled seal flipper, served on a chive biscuit – the elements of seal flipper pie but served a different way. We’ve done seal ravioli, too. It’s strong and gamey if you don’t treat it right, but it does have a rich taste, a taste of the sea.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE LOCAL INGREDIENT?

The codfish is king here. But my favourite local ingredient is wild chanterelles. They’re quite common. Last week I was out picking chanterelles, bent over in the woods, just a 10-minute drive from here, and all I could hear was whales blowing. It’s really magical.

WHAT SHOULD VISITORS TO ST. JOHN’S BE SURE TO TRY?

I think if you can experience Newfoundland ingredients in a typical Newfoundland setting, eating mussels on a beach, that’s ideal. Food in Newfoundland is an experience. It’s about getting together and having a party. If it’s a Purity Jam Jam (cookie) or a moose steak, we’re as interested in the company and the entertainment as we are in the food.

WHAT HAS TOP CHEF CANADA DONE FOR YOUR CAREER?

Now people want to take a picture with me who haven’t even eaten my food. It’s odd.

I wasn’t prepared for what came from the show. I get lots of calls every day from people who want to come to eat. It’s been a bit challenging - in wintertime I can do more of that. Doors are opening and there are opportunities out there for me. This can be something to sustain me for the rest of my career.

WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A CELEBRITY IN YOUR HOME TOWN?

I do get recognized. Anyone who tells you it’s such a curse to be recognized – that’s a lie. I guess if there was a helicopter circling your home, photographing your kids, that would be trouble. But at this level, it’s not oppressive, it’s great. It’s crazy how people are into that but it’s cool when someone stops you on the street or you get a nice email.

I’ve never felt appreciated like I have this year.

 

Chef Todd Perrin is hosting the first annual Roots, Rants and Roars food event in Bonavista Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Join local chefs in “the root cellar capital of the world” for a special harvest festival, Newfoundland style. Watch his Top Chef Canada audition video here.

 

Related links:

Touring Quidi Vidi Brewery

George Street Pub Guide

Canada's Most Walkable City 2010: St. John's

Ricardo Larrivée's Favourite Place

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