Lynn Crawford has a long list of accomplishments in her culinary career, but after a recent trip to Newfoundland the popular Toronto chef can add some more diversified credentials to her resumé.
She learned to dance a jig, spent a day at sea cod fishing, was Screeched-in — complete with kissed cod — and battled her fear of heights on massive cliffs and bogs overlooking the ocean.
Crawford spent a week in Bonavista and Trinity Bay in August where her objective was to gather enough wild bakeapples to create a memorable meal, while celebrating local traditions of living off the land. She’ll share her experiences in an upcoming “Pitchin’ In” show, titled “Berries,” set to premiere on Food Network television, Monday, Feb. 21.
Crawford began working with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Montreal 24 years ago and worked at the chain’s properties in Nevis, the West Indies, Vancouver, Toronto and New York. She was executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan and had the distinction of being the only female executive chef for that hotel chain worldwide.
She regularly co-hosts the TV show “Restaurant Makeover,” stars in her own series, “Pitchin’ In,” and was the only Canadian female chef to have competed in kitchen stadium in “Iron Chef America.”
In April 2009, Crawford left her job as executive chef to find inspiration from people who farm, fish and forage for meal ingredients across North America. That’s what her “Pitchin’ In” show, now in its second season, is all about. Crawford agrees to work for free and at the end of each show she cooks up a meal incorporating fresh ingredients that are the highlights of each episode.
“Without question, it was a difficult decision, of course, leaving my position with the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, but they were very, very supportive,” Crawford said in a recent interview with The Telegram. “It’s about being the best that you possibly can and going on to the next chapter of your life and, for me, I wanted to definitely go on this journey and travel and see where food comes from.”
Her quest in Newfoundland was to find bakeapples, which are also known as cloudberries, some say because of their distinctive shapes.
“I always had a fascination with bakeapples and where they come from,” Crawford said. She had never picked any herself.
On her first trip to Newfoundland, Crawford said, she was invited to a wonderful party where she was Screeched-in by Nikki Pardy, who later assisted Crawford in the kitchen.
Fisherman Jerry Hussey, who is featured on the show as a forager, supplied the raw cod for her to kiss.
“We went out with some cod fishermen, we ate some toutons and we did the jig,” Crawford said.
She admits she wasn’t too successful at catching cod, but the local fishermen with her reeled in some beautiful fish. Matt and Travis Jones are also featured on the episode, showing Crawford how to catch cod with a hand line from their Jones Brothers boat.
“It’s funny because every place that we go to — I’m going to tell you that I’m so lucky — we are greeted with open arms and everybody is so genuine and the hospitality is so spectacular. But when I was in Newfoundland, the people — just heart, soul, humour. It was like, the best ever, I’m telling you. It was the best,” she said.
Pauline Martin at Peace Cove Inn in Port Rexton provided accommodations for the TV crew and accompanied Crawford on her fishing expedition. She was hilarious, Crawford said, and she’s hoping to some day host Martin at her Toronto restaurant, Ruby Watchco.
Cherie Stinson, a designer who’s also a regular on “Restaurant Makeover,” and her husband Joey Skeir are partners with Crawford in the restaurant, which opened last March, and Crawford runs the kitchen with Chef Lora Kirk, who worked with her at the Four Seasons.
Crawford said the restaurant offers a four-course menu that changes every day, but the concept is to honour local farmers and growers.
“I hope to have Pauline here so we can get some bakeapples on the menu one day, and we will,” she said.
In Bonavista, Jerry Hussey and his wife Doris led Crawford on her bakeapple search. She describes the town as an “absolutely gorgeous” place.
“Honestly, I was just absolutely enamoured with that beautiful province,” Crawford said. “It’s gorgeous out there and the people, the food, everything — I just can’t wait to go back.”
Crawford said she never realized before how much work is involved in harvesting bakeapples, and to follow Jerry’s lead she had to muster the courage to suppress her fear of heights.
“They’re on the side of a cliff, for crying out loud, do you know what I mean?” Crawford said.
“It’s not like you’re going off in a berry patch, you know … We were safe about it, for sure, but I took a few snaps on my camera and when I look at where the camera crew was and where we were, I went oh, my goodness, you know, one false move and away you go off the rocks.”
As for the vistas and views, Crawford said, “it was one of the most spectacular places that I’ve ever visited in my life.”
Crawford said the people she met were really the stars of the episode and she was happy to showcase the beauty of the people from such a gorgeous island. “I love anybody with a sense of humour and a big heart,” she said.
After the bakeapples were all shucked and cleaned, Crawford prepared a three-course meal, starting with a cod salad. The cod was pan fried with scruncheons and served with hearts of romaine lettuce, a bakeapple vinaigrette and touton croutons. “I used cod cheeks in the salad, delicious. I’d eat that salad right now, I’m so hungry,” Crawford said.
The second dish was venison with sweet potato dauphinoise. Crawford made scalloped sweet potatoes, marinated a venison loin in a mixture including juniper berries and thyme before cooking it, and served it with a bakeapple chutney.
The dessert was floating islands in bakeapple creme anglaise. “In honour of my guests and the ingredient and where I was, I wanted to create a dish that would remind everybody of Newfoundland, the beautiful rocks, and it was called the floating island. It’s a classical French dessert, which is a whipped vanilla meringue that is poached in milk, but I had done it with candied bakeapples and it was really quite lovely. I was really quite happy with it,” Crawford said.
“Pitchin’ In” is all about “cooking with all of my heart,” she said, “just to say thank you and to honour all the farmers, fishermen, growers, you know, because it’s all about them and they’ve given me such a great gift, so I hope to return it.”
Crawford said she would love to come to Newfoundland again — not to shoot a TV show, but to explore the province.
“Without question, it’s really on my Top 10 list to go back and visit,” she said.
“Berries” will premiere on the Food Network, Monday, Feb. 21 at 11:30 p.m. Newfoundland time, with two repeat episodes airing on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
To view episodes of “Pitchin’ In” after they’ve aired, get the featured recipes and more, visit www.foodnetwork.ca.