I have a theory. It’s based on what I’ve observed, enough times to believe it has merit. Chefs who’ve spent long hours on the culinary front lines of Water and Duckworth, cook better when they move to rural Newfoundland. My latest observation involves Kyle Puddester, a young chef who toiled in various St. John’s kitchens. I tasted his food then and it was respectable enough, but now, it’s a completely different story.
Relocating to Witless Bay with his girlfriend and partner chef, Kayla O’Brien, to open their evening restaurant, Fork, has brought about a transformation in Puddester’s cuisine. Things slow down in places like Witless Bay. You gradually learn to relax and appreciate life. You find time to notice the natural beauty of your surroundings. Then, before you know it, your creative spark is sparking like mad. You’re creating food with enthusiasm and honesty, because it’s what you love to do.
Fork is a restaurant that shares bricks and mortar with another eatery. In daytime, the dory-coloured building overlooking the bay operates as a café called, Irish Loop Coffee House. Evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., the space is occupied by Fork, a fine dining restaurant where Puddester and crew hold sway.
Surrounded by décor of chrome kitchen table sets and a sideboard teapot collection, everything brightly coloured, including the walls, I got a strong smell of homespun B & B — minus the first B. One with a great water view. Anticipation was in the air, too. Ours and every other table were anxious to see what Fork could do. How fine would this fine dining experience be?
The provenance of a chef’s ingredients is often revelatory in such matters. I asked Kyle Puddester about that and his answer was reassuring.
“We try to utilize as much local product as we can. We’re working closely with a supplier in Mobile, Steve and Lisa McBride. They supply us with a lot of vegetables and different things. Other than that, it’s whatever we can get from a day-to-day, week-to-week basis from other farms in town and other suppliers. Our menu changes fairly often, almost weekly, sometimes every three days. Other than that, it’s whatever we want to cook. We try to keep it simple. Four or five ingredients per plate, very simple flavours, fresh, local. That’s pretty much it.”
Worth every penny
Once upon a time, a complimentary basket of bread on fine dining tables was de rigueur. Not any more. Fork has tiny personal loaves of bread with house churned butter and sea salt for $3, and worth every penny. It was biblical, a meal on its own.
We shared a plate of excellent P.E.I. Raspberry Point oysters, tasting of ozone and faintly of brine. I ignored the mignonette and horseradish sauces, opting to extract full enjoyment from the sweet finish of the natural oyster.
A ceviche made with the Irish Loop’s own Placentia Bay scallops looked quite jolly and was fun to eat. After all, how many scallop dishes include popcorn? The scallops were pretty much cooked by the coconut-flavoured marinade, but still tender. The popcorn, sprinkled around the plate, was tandoori scented. It made a nice flavour and texture contrast. Orville Redenbacher must have been smiling.
Served with a delicious, spicy, slightly piquant rice mixture, Fork’s Korean BBQ pork ribs were a treat. Kochujang is a type of Korean red pepper paste. It may have been what gave the ribs their red tinge. I also tasted soy, garlic and sugar. More important, the rich, grilled meat offered little resistance. It left the bone as easily as the mozzarella slides off a Margherita pizza.
Skillfully made ricotta stuffed ravioli came with sliced prosciutto and a dressing of green peas, cherry tomatoes and dandelion pesto. What can I say? It was marvellous. A comforting, no-discord dish demonstrating beautiful harmony of flavours.
I felt like we should sing the “Ode to Newfoundland” before tasting Fork’s plate of sautéed cod. It featured Fogo cod, potato, salt meat, turnip greens and mustard pickles. Manna for the born and bred. As integral to the uniqueness of this place as a Branch or Port de Grave dialect. There are no adjectives to describe how good the cod tasted; from first to last flaky bite, it was beyond extraordinary. Bravo, Kyle Puddester.
I once saw Britain’s prima ballerina, Margot Fonteyn, perform “The Dying Swan.” I was less than 30 feet from the stage. Dame Fonteyn’s breathtaking performance was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and it will remain with me always.
“The Dying Swan” was created for another prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova, of Russia. Pavlova’s name is now more famous for the dessert named after her. A Pavlova is a cake made from meringue, baked slowly on a very low heat and then topped with fresh cream and raspberries — or other fruit.
Fork’s version featured individual meringue cookies set on a circular pipe of lemon curd, with each cookie carefully separated by a rosette of whipped cream. Each rosette was topped with halved blackberries, tiny yellow flowers and bits of granola. The visual effect of this bijoux wreath was of a delicate, ephemeral work of art. I’m sure Pavlova and Fonteyn would have loved it, for its appearance and its taste.
Witless Bay has a wonderful new restaurant called Fork. Go. Enjoy.
Price: Dinner for two with tea, tip and tax costs approximately $150.
Service: Very friendly.
Atmosphere: Homey. Feels a little like being in someone’s kitchen.
Sound: level Moderate.
Open: Tuesday to Saturday: 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Credit cards: All major.
Parking: Building’s parking lot.
Beverages: A choice of five cocktails, including the Salty Dog: tequila, Cointreau, lime, jalapeño and pineapple. A small selection of young, popular wines by the glass. QV beer, plus a “Beer of the Week”. This week it was Dusty Boots Hard Root Beer.
Best bets: Everything.
Wheelchair: access No.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website: www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells