Joe Batt’s Arm
Looking out over Fogo island’s tough, rocky shore, you sip a glass of Quidi Vidi lager (brewed with water from 25,000-year-old icebergs) and ponder the question, how? How have folks survived for centuries off a land that seems so ungenerous and unforgiving? Luckily, at this remarkable island outpost, you’ve got insider knowledge on your side. Zita Cobb, a tech millionaire, returned home with ambition and fearlessness. She hired a Newfoundland-born architect, Todd Saunders, to set Fogo Island Inn’s dining room on stilts, and populated it with locally crafted furnishings. And another Newfoundlander, Murray McDonald, came home from away to cook.
There’s a terrific survivalist spirit bursting out of chef McDonald’s kitchen, where most everything is made from scratch – not just bread and bacon but mustard and vinegar too. A pat of ethereal butter bleeds whey as you knife it. A cocktail of spruce-infused vodka and sharp ginger syrup flaunts my favourite bar trick of the year: Fresh spruce tips sit at the bottom of the glass beneath half an orange that’s wedged in to create a seal, floating the drink up top.
McDonald has softened the edges of the buzzy New Nordic cooking, borrowing the foraged moss and kelp (see following page) but rooting his dishes in what he calls “New Newfoundland cooking.” Lobscouse, a traditional stew of scrod, salt beef, potato and cabbage, is only gently deconstructed via precise knife work. My waitress – they’re all from the island and knowledgeable as all heck – informs me that the sauce, made from the vegetable cooking water, is a “pot licker,” like her mother makes. Pickled vegetables surround- ed by “dirt” – a dusting of dried mushrooms, chicory and cocoa – would be pretentious served in the city, but the dish seems well earned here.
As the sun sets on your lassie tart – that’s molasses, in island speak, balanced by a zinger sorbet of foraged partridgeberries – you can sit back, enjoy the view and make plans to skip tomorrow’s ferry home. We’ve got everything we need right here.
- BUTTER PLUS: Adding fat to butter? Whether duck fat (Supply and Demand) or barbecue drippings (Electric Mud BBQ), we say the more, the merrier.
- FOOD-FRIENDLY REDS: Versatile, high-acid, low-tannin red grapes, like zweigelt, lacrima, frappato and gamay, have moved to the top of the sommelier’s speed-dial list. Don’t call us, cab sauv, we’ll call you.
- LAMB BELLY: The new pork belly.
- SMALL PLATES, SMALLER TABLES: If you’re going to ask us to order four dishes per person to share, you’d better have a plan for where to put them. Yes, we are still working on all of these.
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Natural Selection: Foraging on Fogo with Murray McDonald.
“Back in the day, if you didn’t have a small farm, a garden, a root cellar and a store of preserves here, you starved,” says Fogo Island Inn chef Murray McDonald. He scours all corners of the 240-square-kilometre island for unexpected treasures. “Ninety-five percent of what’s in our kitchen, I know the hands that touched it, including my own.”
“The spruce-tip season only lasts a month here, so we pick 30 kilos to last us the year, using it in things like our infused vodka. The only problem is that there’s a heard of rutting caribou that congregates in the soccer field nearby. We need to be careful.”
“I take my son into the woods for a five-hour mushroom pick, and he loves it. We find hedgehogs, chanterelles and black trumpets poking their heads out, but my favourites are matsutake, or pine mushrooms. A good picker never reveals his exact spot.”
“Bakeapple is the most expensive berry in Newfoundland. It looks like a golden raspberry, but the flavour is totally unique. I know a family that lives near the inn, and they take their boat and tents to the Indian Islands to camp and pick for me.”
“Between services, we’ll forage for edible greens on the rocks around the inn, sometimes with guests. We find seaside plantain, caribou moss and wild celery. Oyster leaf tastes just like an oyster – it’s scary!”
“We harvest green bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) and dulse out of Oliver’s Cove because there’s no runoff there. It’s also where our salt comes from. We fill 40-litre buckets of sea water, strain it at the inn, boil it and finish the dehydration outside. Presto: sea salt.”