Chef Todd Perrin. — Telegram file photo
Chef Todd Perrin was in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Friday when he received a text message from someone in St. John’s asking if he knew what was going on at Mallard Cottage, the site of the new restaurant Perrin was hoping to open next month.
“I knew our power was getting hooked up,” he said, speaking with The Telegram by phone over the weekend from Fort McMurray.
A short while later, Perrin received a phone call from his business partner relaying some bad news — the cottage was on fire.
An electrical fire was initially taken care of by a Newfoundland Power employee with a fire extinguisher. Supt. Robert Fowler of the St. John’s Regional Fire Department said the fire started after Newfoundland Power employees connected the building to the electrical grid.
According to a photographer for The Telegram who was at the scene Friday afternoon, firefighters were checking for hot spots when the fire suddenly flared up.
They went inside the building with hoses and chainsaws. A chainsaw could be heard cutting through a wall as the firefighters looked for the source of the flames.
According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website listing the province’s heritage structures, the Quidi Vidi Village property was built in either the late 18th century or the early 19th century. This means the building is likely 200 years old.
Perrin, a contestant in 2011 on the TV series “Top Chef Canada,” says work to turn the property into a restaurant began in early 2012. The restaurant was featured last week in a Globe and Mail story published in the national daily newspaper’s life section.
A plan was in place to open within the next two to three weeks — possibly in time for Regatta Day on Aug. 7 — but the fire has forced the property’s owners to adjust their expectations.
“On the scale of how bad it could have been, it was not so bad,” said Perrin. “The fire captains apparently advised us that if it had been another few minutes, likely the building would’ve been completely lost, so we were fortunate to catch it.”
Unfortunately, the fire department’s unavoidable work to find the source of the blaze contributed to the overall damage.
“They undid a lot of what we’ve done,” he said. Extensive construction work has taken place at Mallard Cottage over the past year as part of its transformation into a 65-seat restaurant.
Floors, walls, ceilings and the roof were torn apart in some sections as part of the firefighting effort, according to Perrin. With the fire still under investigation, Perrin said it is hard to fully grasp its impact on the site’s electrical system and how long it will delay the restaurant’s opening.
“How much longer it’s going to take us — it could be an extra month. It could be an extra three months. At this point, we just don’t know.”
However, Perrin said there has been optimism surrounding the Mallard Cottage Restaurant project from day one, and he does not feel this recent setback will change that.
“It’s always been difficult, so this is just another part of the story. We intend to carry on, and we will.”
Perrin was taking part this weekend in a charitable food event with celebrity TV chef Michael Smith to raise funds for the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society.
“A couple of the guys who are here, they’ve had fires in their own restaurants over the years. They know where we’re coming from. So there’s a lot of support.”