Q&A with Chef Todd Perrin
On my recent whirlwind trip to Newfoundland, I was blown away by the culinary talent in its capital city, St. John's. After cooking stints in mainland Canada or abroad, many young Newfoundlander chefs are returning home to open restaurants highlighting the island's fantastic local ingredients. Roots run deep on this island, and the chefs I met there were proud of the sheer natural beauty of their home–with its rugged landscape of cliffs and coves and glaciers and all manner of wildlife–and wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
Todd Perrin, owner of The Chef's Inn and a recent competitor in Season 1 of Top Chef Canada, is not only proud of his home, he's quite the ambassador. The first weekend of October, he organized the Roots, Rants, and Roars festival, a celebration of NL food and music which brought chefs from all over Canada to compete for the "King of Cod" title, and then headed to NYC with a bevy of NL chefs to cook for a James Beard Foundation dinner. But things don't look like they're slowing down any time soon for Perrin–he's working on a new restaurant, set to open next summer. I caught up with him recently to talk about his chef's table dinners, his favorite local dish, and what it was like competing on Top Chef Canada. (I also managed to nab a recipe for his fabulous seafood soup...see below.)
When did you start cooking? What inspired you to become a chef?
I started cooking school in 1994 at the Culinary Institute of Canada. I was inspired by good cooking at home by my folks, but mostly because I love to eat good food and always have.
You live in St. John's, Newfoundland. Can you share with us some of your favorite local ingredients and dishes?
Living in NL of course Cod is King! Having said that the supply has been short for the past number of years, but beginning to show some great signs of recovery. My favourite local dish would have to be a simple “peasant” dish of fish stew consisting of loads of onions, salt fat pork, salt beef, potato and fresh cod. The ultimate NL comfort food!
You were recently on Top Chef Canada...what was that experience like for you? What advice would you give a chef who is considering being on a competitive cooking TV show?
It was an amazing experience! Super-tough, but fun at the same time. I met some great friends/chefs that I keep in contact with still and get to work with from time to time. For chefs considering a run at reality TV, my advice is to be yourself and do your thing. There’s more than one way to “win” the show.
Currently you and your wife run a B&B called The Chef's Inn, where you cook regular Chef's Table dinners. How do you like this style of cooking versus being on the line in a busy restaurant?
It’s great! You get to cook your food the way you want and you literally get to touch every element in every dish. It’s a great way to cook, less stress and ultimate quality control. Having said that, we are about to start building a restaurant hoping to open next summer.
You and several other chefs from Newfoundland and Labrador recently came to NYC to cook for a James Beard Foundation Dinner? What was the experience like? Best moment? Biggest challenge?
Awesome. I mean it’s like a baseball player going to Yankee Stadium. It’s an important stop on any culinary map and I can’t wait to do it again. We are working on a return engagement for next year. Best moment- Showing up and seeing the sign on the front door –a “We made it” moment. Challenge – traveling the ingredients and equipment around Manhattan. No easy feat!
If you had to prepare an impromptu dinner party for eight, what would you make?
If it was today – White Bean and Kale Soup...Seared Cod on Root Vegetable Ragu and an Orange, Fennel, Coriander Reduction...Confit Duck, Gnocchi, Parmigiano Reggiano....Pork Rillons, Parsnip Puree, Roasted Garlic, Grilled Beets.
What do you want readers to know about Newfoundland that they may not know?
Just what all of us who live here know – It’s one of the most amazing places on Earth that almost no one has seen.
1 bulb fennel
2 stalks celery
2 tablespoons fennel seed
1/2 tablespoon dried chilli flakes
1 cup white wine
1 cup fish stock
2 (28 oz.) cans whole tomatoes, crushed
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 lbs. Atlantic cod or halibut, 1-inch dice
8 oz. crab leg meat, shredded
Finely dice all of the vegetables and sauté in a large pot over medium-high heat until slightly softened. Add the fennel seeds and chilli flakes and stir. Add the white wine and fish stock; simmer and let reduce by half.
Add the crushed tomatoes and cherry tomato halves and bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, stirring well. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
Add the cod (or halibut) and continue simmering until the fish is just cooked through, around 7 or 8 minutes. Reserve a couple of ounces of crab meat for garnish, and add the remaining crab meat to soup and just heat through. Warm the reserved crab meat in a little simmering fish stock.
Serve the soup; garnish each bowl with a little of the reserved, warmed crab meat and fennel frond.