“Someone once asked me what my favourite food was”, Chef Chris Aerni said as he tucked into ice cold slices of watermelon hand-picked from the gardens of the renowned Rossmount Inn in New Brunswick. “I say if you ask me now after a morning stroll in the sun then it is cold slices of watermelon, ask me later on it will be something different”.
A simple philosophy it may be, but cooking what is good at the right time in the right place is something that has won Aerni many plaudits. After completing traditional chef’s training in Switzerland he bumped up kitchen ranks before he and his wife purchased the Rossmount Inn in St. Andrews by the sea set within an 87 acre estate between the forest and the sea that would allow him to truly deliver on his belief of fresh cuisine that honours local ingredients and the people who produce them.
When we arrived at the hotel early doors he was sat finishing his espresso in the morning sun as birds chirped in the trees and a soft breeze blew across the elevated terrace. Although our reservation wasn’t until later that evening Aerni often invites guests to earn their meals and set out into his wonderful kitchen garden in search of foods that would magically appear on the menu later on. With a wicker basket in hand hungry troopers go in search of wild mushrooms, herbs, plants and all other sorts of natural treats that litter the land in this part of the World.
And it’s not just guests who are afforded his source-to-mouth insight. Young chefs have come to use Rossmount as a training ground to earn their wares. Students have the opportunity to obtain culinary knowledge in a kitchen that focuses its daily menu on the availability of the products from local sources, giving them an appreciation of the full food journey that they would seldom get elsewhere.
The results, when you return later that night, are a delight to behold. With dishes from the land and sea represented in equal measure – befitting for a woodland restaurant overlooking the sea – you are struck with choice paralysis as you attempt to navigate a menu that could be eaten in its entirety if only you had the abdominal elasticity to achieve it. Halibut ceviche served with sweet potato silk and a chioga-yellow-red beet salad jumped off the list, and the naked lobster dish has been attracting people from miles around for many years.
But, after days of solely eating produce from Canada’s bountiful Atlantic oceans, I opted for land and land with just a sprinkle of the sea with a chicken liver-foie gras parfait starter followed by a surf and turf medley of beef tenderloin and poached lobster for main course. The parfait was elegantly dressed with press home-grown melon, pickles and crostini that accentuated subtle foie gras flavours to give it life. The already punchy steak and lobster flavours were simply complimented with local vegetables, caviar d’aubergine and a tarragon-butter sauce that was simply to die for.
After a day spent experiencing the Rossmount philosophy the evening’s dinner proved that when it comes to exceptional cooking the proof is in the pudding. Each dish on the menu is meticulously well thought-out and boasts an array of ingredients as diverse as they are tasty. It was provenance on a plate, and it is why before you kick the bucket, you should grab yourself a basket – it’ll be well worth your while.