From the early 1990s until this summer, Fred Hutton was co-anchor of the province’s award-winning — and, for the past 14 years running, No. 1 — television news program, the NTV Evening News.
During the last several years, he was also news director at NTV.
Hutton is widely regarded as one of the most decent fellows you’ll ever meet. When I asked him about being universally praised for his good nature, he became visibly uncomfortable, shrugged it off and even blushed a little.
I wasn’t surprised. Fred Hutton, as they say, is “the genuine article.”
We were having lunch at the Gypsy Tea Room on Water Street. Hutton arrived looking very much like he did on television for over 20 years, wearing glasses, dark jacket and white shirt with blue pinstripes.
Two things were noticeably different. He has grown some facial hair (neatly trimmed, of course) and the regulation TV anchorman’s necktie was missing.
The beard is what’s known as a Van Dyke, a combination of goatee and moustache. (A friend pointed out the difference between a goatee and Van Dyke years ago, and it’s always stuck in my brain.)
The subtle fashion statements indicate that Fred Hutton is enjoying his freedom from the constraints imposed on television news anchors in terms of their appearance.
He had a slight tan (“some colour on his face,” as my mother would say) and looked healthy and happy.
It has been two months since he left NTV. Most of that time was spent relaxing. Now (as of Aug. 26) he’s at work in his new position as director of VOCM news operations in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Pumped about job
Hutton told me he enjoys trying all foods, but generally likes “chicken, fish, pasta and vegetables.” I was curious to see what he’d eventually order.
While sipping a cold glass of white wine, he told me he’s very excited about his new job at VOCM. He’s convinced that traditional media (broadcast television, cable, radio, newspapers and magazines) must quickly embrace the new media (on demand, online, user generated media: websites, blogs, social media) or be left behind in its wake.
“Obviously VOCM is very proactive in terms of its news feeds through social media,” Hutton said. “I want to embrace new media, grab onto it and try to lead, because that’s where things are going. And, for example, if listeners send video over, I’d like to see that video on VOCM’s webpage. We will do more citizen journalism.
“You know, I’m constantly asking people how they view things on the Internet and if you’ve got to go through four or five links to get to it, after the fourth link you’re moving on to something else. If it’s right there and easy for people to click on and you can get 15 seconds of fire video or whatever, great. Radio can cross that line into video with a webpage.”
Hutton is also certain that placing an emphasis on VOCM’s new media platforms is the best way to reach out to a younger audience tuned into iPhone, iPad and other devices. He used his own kids as an example, saying, “My kids don’t, for example, watch TV the way I watch TV. They PVR it or watch it on the Internet. They use their laptops.”
Our server mentioned an appetizer that tweaked Hutton’s interest: seared scallop with tiger shrimp.
The vertical presentation culminated in a caramelized scallop topped by one succulent shrimp and then what appeared to be a perfectly round green olive. (The arrangement made me think of a seal balancing a green ball on its nose.)
A drizzle of fruity sweet and sour sauce provided accent.
After a single bite, Hutton gave the dish a quick thumbs-up. We were off to a good start.
I chose Gypsy’s vegetarian spring rolls. Spring rolls and the tiger shrimp appetizer are my Gypsy favourites.
The thinly wrapped rolls were of the type that satisfyingly shatter when eaten — and they were bigger than I remember.
A small dish of creamy, piquant dressing was sent along. The dressing went well with the rolls’ stuffing of sautéed minced vegetables.
Having seen Hutton interview many newsmakers over the years, I wondered who he considered to be his toughest interview. I was expecting him to mention asx master obfuscator or politician (is that redundant?) but he didn’t. Rather, he explained his approach to interviewing politicians this way.
“Well, I’ve interviewed all the premiers and all the prime ministers since 1990, and you’re going to get what you’re going to get. They already know what they’re going to say before they go in.
“Very rarely will you get anything that’s off script or off point. But interviewing a parent who has lost a child is tough. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be going through that.”
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I pointed out that in his new job, Hutton’s audience wouldn’t get to see or hear him on-air again, but he assured me that things are in the works to enable him to have an on-air, as well as management role at VOCM News.
In fact, he already has a microphone in his office in the newly renovated VOCM newsroom.
Hutton added, “There’s also going to be a lot more emphasis on live news. The focus will be more on spot news, live breaking news, to correspond with the VOCM news alerts that you’ll see on your hand-held device or iPad.”
I’m not sure if the cause of his robust appetite was the energy and passion he’s developed for his new VOCM job, but Hutton quickly consumed his main course: cajun chicken fettuccine. It was a combination of cooked fettuccine tossed with white meat (cut into bite sized pieces) spiced cream sauce and herbs. The finished dish was sprinkled with grated Parmesan. I didn’t bother to ask how he liked the main course. Hutton’s empty bowl spoke for him.
My entrée was a beautiful example of seafood cookery. Chef Bruce Brookings did a masterful job in preparing a piece of blackened halibut fillet for me.
Its black coating of herbs and spices sharply contrasted with the clean white halibut flesh that was very tender and moist. A pinkish cream sauce with hints of tomato made the fish taste even better. Perfectly sautéed vegetables and rice pilaf accompanied.
After the meal, Hutton and I parted with a handshake. I paused for a few moments and watched this supremely contented man venture forth to take on the rest of the day, and the challenges of his new job.
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For regular updates on “One Chef One Critic,” my Telegram Dining Out column and the latest developments on the local culinary scene please follow me on Twitter @karl_wells
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a restaurant panellist with enRoute Magazine. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.