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Fogo Island Inn

Above: The inn is set on Fogo Island’s rocky northern shore, where chef McDonald and his team regularly forage for wild greens.

Fogo Island Inn
210 Main Rd., Joe Batt’s Arm, Newfoundland
709-658-3444, fogoislandinn.ca

“There’s a terrific survivalist spirit bursting out of chef McDonald’s kitchen.”

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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.

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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.

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.”

Fogo Map
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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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!”

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“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.”

Comments

  • Diane D. October 24, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Both of our stays and all of our meals have been amazing. Locally gardened vegetables, foraged berries and homemade furniture and quilts. It doesn’t get any more welcoming than that. Thank you and congratulations to Chef Murray and the team that make this place amazing.

  • Madeline Chippett October 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    So proud of my home town and the things that have been made possible there by chief Murray and his staff.Ate there this summer,the food was great different but great.

  • Angela Kinsella October 25, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Congratulations on your latest achievement! A great way to spread the word!

  • M. Foley October 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    CONGRATULATIONS Chef Murray & The Fogo Island Inn. And congrats to Aidan – great background music!

  • GMT October 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    During our recent stay, we were continually amazed and delighted with how each and every meal showcased elements of traditional Newfoundland food, perfectly treated and with elegant and interesting twists…..the food alone would keep us coming back again and again. Add in the wonder of the Inn itself and it is a no-brainer! We would recommend this to anyone a hundred times over.

  • Lisa October 29, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I have become obsessed with visiting, maybe coming to live in your beautiful province, and now that I’ve found out about Fogo Island I know where I want most to see and know what I want to taste while there. Looks and sounds delicious!

  • John FitzGerald October 29, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Mmmm. I am now sooooo hungry. Well done! But one correction: that should be “pot-liquor” – or, at least it was to my grandmother, who was from the Fogo Island village of Tilting.

  • Sue Dodge October 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Good for you. So pleased you’re doing what you love, and are lucky enough to be at home to do it. Now starting to get the recognition you soo deserve and, am able to expose Newfoundland for what it really is..a place in our heart, that never leaves you …good luck in the future.

  • Brad King October 30, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Congrats Chef Murray! Nice to see you have success in the Culinary field, myself I have moved from that culinary world to follow in my fathers footsteps and become a miner up in the frozen tundra of Labrador, I still remembers us all in chef school, our lil white hats, Hiltz, Profitt, Phinney, Aitken, Vincent&Heckbert.What times we had buddy. Anyhow just wanted to say hello and send my congrats in your becoming chef at Fogo Island Inn, don’t worry the big guy still loves to eat! Me and da Misses will be dropping by real soon, for a nibble. People, Murray is not only a five star Chef but more importantly a five star person. Take care buddy look forward to seeing you soon

  • Jennifer November 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    We had a wonderful stay at the Inn in July. Feeling like you are at the end of the earth when you sit in the dining room and being treated to a wonderful meal created by Chef Murray was delightful.

  • April McMillan November 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    We were so welcomed it was incredible, staff were warm and friendly, and showed us around the Inn. Coming from far away, from the Upper Outaouais Gatineau area Quebec, we were given the 5 star treatment. Lunch was fantastic (Crab cakes yummm) Zita Cobb is our hero. If any of you are in our area come on up to Mont Ste Marie and let us return your wonderful hospitality. Maybe one day will have the opportunity to return I sure hope so. Cheers April and Jean

  • Katherine November 6, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Lovely to see this write up, but I have to also point out it is “pot liquor” not “pot licker”. Gave me a bit of a chuckle 🙂

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