Atlantica restaurant, in Portugal Cove, has been named the No. 1 new restaurant in Canada by EnRoute magazine. This marks the first time a Newfoundland and Labrador restaurant has made the magazine's annual top 10 list, let alone taking the coveted first place. The honour was announced from Toronto Monday morning in a special live telecast on CTV's Canada AM. The broadcast featured Atlantica staff, including talented executive chef, Jeremy Charles.
I have been the Newfound-land representative for EnRoute's restaurant panel for the past four years. It's my happy task to recommend annually a small numberxof restaurants that, in my opinion, might be worthy of inclusion in EnRoute's prestigious list. When I first joined the EnRoute panel I doubted - given the competition fromxgreat restaurant cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver - that our province would even come close to making the top 10. At least, I didn't think we would for many years.
I'm delighted I was wrong. However, think about it, four years ago our fine dining scene was limited. It's only been in the past year or so that I've felt we might have some serious contenders here. (Atlantica being one.) So, what's changed? The answer is simple. Although their number is relatively small, we now have chefs working in this province - hopefully supported by entrepreneurs like Atlantica's ownership - who are especially talented and creative. These are chefs capable of pushing the culinary envelope, who are not only capable of creating and executing extraordinary recipes; these chefs possess the ability to change the way we look at food. When I see Jeremy Charles - standing above the blue waters of Conception Bay, holding a glistening halibut by the tail - in EnRoute's November issue, I know I'm looking at a chef who is capable of making that fish taste like halibut has never tasted before.
In its annual restaurant issue, enRoute calls Jeremy Charles an "abundantly talented chef." The article goes on to describe his food as "unexpected" and "enchanting." It most certainly is. In fact, since restaurant surveys are largely about the quality of the establishment's food, it goes without saying that Chef Charles is the Atlantica employee most responsible for this new national recognition.
So, who is this gastronome performing these culinary feats in Portugal Cove? He is a St. John's lad who, as his bio claims, "grew up surrounded by fresh seafood and garden vegetables in his grandmother's kitchen." After picking up a few cooking tips from his "Nan," Jeremy Charles moved to one of North America's fabulous food cities, Montreal. There he studied cookery at the Pius X Culinary Institute under Otto Daniels and Tony Mancini. Formative work in various Montreal restaurants followed and then stints working as a private chef in both Canada and the United States.
Most telling, for me, from the wunderkind's bio was my discovery of who he had mentored with after finishing culinary school. The name Claude Pelletier popped out at me. Pelletier, and his Le Club Chasse et Peche in Montreal, were named in EnRoute's 2005 top 10 list. Last year Pelletier was chosen for the honour of being invited to cook for members of the James Beard Foundation in New York City. Pelletier is a remarkably gifted chef and I have no doubt whatsoever that Claude Pelletier greatly influenced Jeremy Charles's cooking.
(By the way, most chefs have mentors. Claude Pelletier's was an acknowledged master, the legendary Quebec chef Marcel Kretz, the first chef to receive the Order of Canada. I had a private lunch and fascinating interview with Marcel Kretz last week and I will tell you about it in my next column.)
Congratulations to Atlantica and Jeremy Charles for being selected by enRoute. Being named top new restaurant in Canada by the nation's most influential restaurant survey is a tremendous acknowledgement of the quality of this restaurant and Chef Charles's wonderful food.
Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute magazine. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.
Here is the complete list of Enroute's top 10 new restaurants for 2007:
1. Atlantica, Portugal Cove, Newfoundland
2. Kingyo Izakaya, Vancouver, British Columbia
3. Salt Tasting Room, Vancouver, British Columbia
4. Bistro Bienville, Montreal, Quebec
5. Colborne Lane, Toronto, Ontario
6. Le Moine Echanson, Quebec City, Quebec
7. The Trough Dining Co., Canmore, Alberta
8. Restaurant L'Idylle, Dieppe, New Brunswick
9. Blink Restaurant and Supperclub, Calgary, Alberta
10. Foxley Bistro, Toronto, Ontario