One of Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival’s Culinary Stage attractions was Langdon Hall’s Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue, Grand Chef, Relais Chateaux.
The Scheduled Events program was light on details:
Join the widely acclaimed Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue, Grand Chef, Relais Chateaux as he whips up something local, fresh and absolutely delicious!
Probably any decent chef in Perth County could have ‘whipped up something local, fresh and absolutely delicious‘. So what really made me decide to hang on to my front row seat at the Culinary Stage for this session?
40-year-old Chef Gushue is well-known for his impressive resumé. Most recently he received the Ontario Hostelry Institute Gold Chef Award. In 2010 Langdon Hall was named to the S. Pellegrino 100 World’s Best Restaurant List. They were ranked 77. A high achiever starting early on his career, at 32, he was selected by the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to take over Truffles Restaurant to be one of their youngest 5 diamonds restaurant chefs in North America. The list of accolades is lengthy. And those achievements took place at notably prestigious establishments.
What actually kept me warming my seat was that I had first met Chef Gushue in the Spring of 2005 at a special function in Ottawa. At the time he was chef at Truffles at the Four Seasons.
The meal he organized was superb and the stand out for me was the Chilled Plum Tomato Consommé of all things. Not that I thought any less of the Rillettes de Salmon on Buckwheat Blinis, Poached Baby Lobster, Pressed Terrine of Smoked Ham Hock & Foie Gras, Saddle of Spring Lamb, Pave de Richelieu or Braised Rhubarb. But that tomato consommé was a thing of beauty. So remarkably clear. And the flavour.
For Saturday’s demonstration and food sampling Chef Gushue focused on ‘The Forgotten Ingredients’ – Verbena, Hemp Seed, Wood Sorrel, Nasturtium, Wild Watercress and Wild Chocolate Mint.
Because of the idyllic, naturally wooded setting at Langdon Hall, the kitchen has access to a garden full of seasonal fruits and vegetables. They have maple trees tapped for syrup and there are fruit trees as well. Out in the wilder parts of the property they can go foraging for wild herbs and other edible plants.
He shared with us the extensive list of items in the Kitchen Garden:
Arugula, Asparagus, Basil, Brassicas, Carrots, Chard, Chives, Coriander Flowers, Blueberries, Cucumber, Fennel, Fig, Green Garlic, Garlic, Hibiscus, Hyssop, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lemon Balm, Marigolds, Melons, Mizuna, Nasturtium Leaves, Okra, Pole Beans, Radish, Salsify, Savory, Squash Shoots, Spinach, Sunflower, Squash Flowers, Strawberries, Sorrels, Tomatoes, Verbena.
Thankfully there are 7 gardeners on staff!
Before sampling each dish, we were given a taste of the forgotten ingredient in its natural form. Working through each dish, Chef Gushue talked about his approach of balancing flavours, creating complexities, working tensions on the taste buds. Yes, a chef, but perhaps also part artist, chemist, scientist and alchemist.
My favourite dish was the tartare tartlette. Mark Schatzker’s Wagyu beef was melt in your mouth. It was the smoked cold pressed canola & cider hollandaise that pulled the tart together and captured my senses.
As an aside, researcher Dr. Alan Searleman of St. Lawrence University, NY may not be so surprised at Chef Gushue’s talents. Searleman studies ‘southpaws’ and he claims they have higher IQs, solve problems better and enjoy more extensive vocabularies. When presenting his findings to the American Psychological Association’s annual conference a decade ago, he said: “Left-handers have a higher ‘fluid’ intelligence and better vocabulary than the majority of the population. This is perhaps why there are more of them in creative professions, such as music, art and writing.”
Gushue keeps ‘leftie’ company with the likes of Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin and Pablo Picasso. (And, well, me!)