But perhaps nowhere is the island's homegrown culinary pride more evident than at Bacalao, the restaurant that launched the Newfoundland locavore movement five years ago. Mike Barsky and Andrea Maunder, the husband-and-wife team behind the restaurant, touted local ingredients long before it was trendy. They coined the phrase "nouvelle Newfoundland cuisine," adding playful modern twists to traditional dishes like "Jiggs Dinner" (a sailor's dish of boiled salted beef and root vegetables with peas porridge). Barsky serves his Jiggs Dinner as a steamed cabbage leaf stuffed, dumpling style, with salted beef and vegetables, over a creamy dollop of pease pudding. The "pot liquor" (the nourishing cooking liquid) is served in a shot glass on the side.
Barsky opened Bacalao in September 2007, just missing that year's tourist season, but the restaurant immediately won a supportive local following. "Most people viewed Newfoundland cuisine as home cooking, so they were delighted to have their food elevated to a new level," said Maunder.
The pride Newfoundlander chefs take in their island and in their craft is obvious. After living around the world, there is nowhere they would rather be than back home. They are excited about the natural bounty they have at their fingertips, and they want to share it with others. "We came back to Newfoundland not just for the food," said Maunder, "but for the culture, the friendliness, and the beauty."
The St. John's chefs are a tight-knit bunch, and quite evangelical. Several of them, including Todd Perrin, Jeremy Charles, Jeremy Bonia, Michelle LeBlanc, and Andrea Maunder, cooked Newfoundland-themed dinners last year at the James Beard House in New York City. The eternally busy Perrin is working on a new restaurant, Mallard Cottage, located in a historic 200-year old house in Quidi Vidi Village, a neighborhood of St. John's. With any luck, Perrin plans to open the restaurant this fall, and will serve the sort of fresh, seasonal, hyper-local food he loves best.
Sounds like a good incentive for me to head back and get screeched in.