In recent years it’s become trendy for restaurants to incorporate locally produced food into their menus.
But, in Newfoundland, that’s something people have been doing for years out of necessity, says Todd Perrin, a local chef and owner of The Chef’s Inn in downtown St. John’s.
St. John’s might be an exception, but Perrin says a lot of people in rural Newfoundland still have their own backyard gardens and, even today, they grow a good percentage of their own vegetables because there’s not a market on every corner.
Perrin, originally from Long Pond in Conception Bay South, now lives in Quidi Vidi Village and operates his bed and breakfast on Gower Street.
“We grow a lot of our own vegetables. At the bed and breakfast, obviously breakfast is the focus here in the summertime, so lots of fruit and berries and stuff that we get out of our own garden,” Perrin said in a recent interview.
He also buys local eggs from a neighbour across the street from his home in Quidi Vidi. “It’s all about knowing where your food comes from and getting your best quality and something that’s grown in your backyard, obviously, the quality of it is better than something that gets trucked halfway across the country. So, that’s an easy decision for us and, in terms of our philosophy, it just happens to fit with what people are looking for these days,” Perrin said.
Food Network Canada viewers will have an opportunity to get to know Perrin and his philosophies soon in a new series, “Top Chef Canada,” set to premiere April 11.
The 40-year-old Perrin was selected among 16 contestants to compete in the series.
He said he first learned of the competition when a friend sent him an email link to the Internet casting call early last year. He submitted an application, but it was summer before the final call was made.
Perrin said he was interviewed by phone and then had to go to Halifax for an “in-person audition.”
The series was taped over the summer and early fall.
As for the outcome, who won the grand prize of $100,000 and a GE Monogram kitchen worth $30,000, Perrin said he’s sworn to secrecy. “I’m not permitted under penalty of death to reveal anything. They take that very seriously,” he said jokingly.
Until early March, no-one was even supposed to know that he was chosen to be on the show, Perrin said, with the exception of his very close family members, and they all had to sign confidentiality documents.
That’s because the producers want the show to be entertaining, he said, so people can tune in each week to follow how their favourite chefs are doing in the competition.
“Once you get into process, any compunction you have to say, ‘hey, I’m on the show’ or ‘hey, I did this,’ it goes away because you’re part of it and you want it to be entertaining for people. You want people to follow along and watch it. So, you become part of the thing very quickly,” Perrin said.
Being the only contestant chosen east of Montreal, Perrin said, “I hope everybody’s happy and proud of the job I do to represent where I’m from.”
He said Newfoundland is a hot destination these days, everybody wants to visit the province and the response that most Newfoundlanders get from people on the mainland shouldn’t be underestimated.
From his experiences, Perrin said, “They’re inclined to like you if you’re from Newfoundland. You have to do something for them not to like you because they automatically like you. I don’t know if that was an advantage or leg up for getting on or being in the show, but it didn’t hurt.”
Perrin left Newfoundland in the early 1990s to enrol in The Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College in Prince Edward Island. After he graduated, he spent some time travelling the country. He worked at The Lodge at Kananaskis in Alberta, then worked in Ontario for a while and travelled overseas where he landed a job at a private hotel near Zurich, Switzerland.
Perrin moved back to Newfoundland in 1999 and has stayed in the province ever since.
He left Switzerland to take a job at Nagiera’s restaurant in St. John’s, and if that opportunity hadn’t arisen, he said, he probably would still be working outside the province.
“But, as luck would have it, I came back and met my girlfriend at the time and we married shortly after,”
Perrin and his wife, Kimberly Doyle, have one daughter.
The Chef’s Inn bed and breakfast is going into its fourth season this year, Perrin said.
And, fortunately, he said, there have never been more opportunities for people in this business.
“We’re working on a couple of future plans that will hopefully fit into growing St. John’s,” Perrin said.
Starting out as a chef in St. John’s was tough, Perrin said. “It was a tough place to make a living, wages were low, and there were few opportunities for places to work,” but that’s changed a lot since the early ’90s.
The economy is better and the restaurant business is riding that wave, he said, “so, it’s an exciting time to be living in town.”
In the fall and winter months, the bed and breakfast business slows down, but Perrin still cooks for private dinner parties and culinary events. He said eight to 10 people often come together and it’s like hosting a dinner party in your own home, only you do it in Perrin’s home and he looks after all the details.
“Top Chef Canada,” is set to premiere April 11 at 10:30 p.m. Newfoundland time on Food Network Canada.
The show will be hosted by television personality Thea Andrews with chef and restaurateur Mark McEwan as head judge. Toronto native Shereen Arazm, a successful chef, owner and operator of dining and entertaining establishments in Los Angeles, will also join the cast as a resident judge.
Local chef Todd Perrin shares one of his signature dishes with Telegram readers
1 bulb fennel
2 stalks celery
2 tbsp. fennel seed
1/2 tbsp. dried chilli flakes
1 cup white wine
1 cup fish stock
2 - 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes, crushed
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 lb. atlantic cod or halibut, 1-inch dice
8 oz. crab leg meat, shredded
1. Small dice all of the vegetables, sauté until slightly softened.
2. Add fennel seed and chilli flakes and stir.
3. Add white wine and fish stock, reduce by half.
4. Add crushed tomatoes, cherry tomato halves and bring to simmer.
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Add brown sugar and balsamic vinegar.
7. Simmer 30-45 minutes.
8. Add cod/halibut, continue simmering until fish is just cooked through, around
7 or 8 minutes.
9. Reserve a couple of ounces of crab meat for garnish, add remaining to soup and just heat through.
10. Warm reserved crab meat in a little simmering fish stock.
11. Serve, garnish each bowl with a little of the reserved, warmed crab meat and fennel frond.