Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fleur de Sel

Grilled hake coiled like a medieval sea serpent with its tail in its mouth
at Fleur de Sel this summer

Regardless of what you think of culinary competitions, or whether you think of them at all, they certainly draw attention to chefs who might otherwise remain largely anonymous outside their devoted local followings. This year’s Canadian Culinary Championship being held in Toronto features one of our very favourite chefs among its seven finalists from across the country.Chef Martin Ruis Salvadore of Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia will compete against six other chefs: Anthony Walsh of Canoe in Toronto, Roland Ménard of Manoir Hovey, outside of Montreal, Melissa Craig of Barefoot Bistro in Vancouver, Paul Rogalski of Rouge in Calgary, Judy Wu of Wild Tangerine in Edmonton, and Michael Moffatt of Beckta Dining and Wine in Ottawa. I’m lucky enough to have dined at three of those seven restaurants in the past year: Beckta, Canoe (thanks, E), and Fleur de Sel. All are truly excellent restaurants, but my heart goes to Fleur de Sel.

The view from our favorite table at Fleur de Sel

We first happened upon Fleur de Sel in the summer of 2004. What drew our attention, while we walked down the streets of picturesque Lunenburg, was the large wooden sign in the distance which read “Fleur de Sel” (with all of its subtext of French influence, location-specific, hand-harvested ingredients, and culinary sophistication). Perhaps it was a kitchenwares store? a gourmet grocer? As we approached the beautiful yellow wooden house typical of Lunenburg vernacular architecture, I said to N “If that’s a restaurant, then that’s where we’re eating dinner.” Well, luckily for us, it was and we did. The restaurant is as beautiful inside as out with several intimate dining rooms, pale yellow walls, white woodwork linens and china, wooden floors, and vibrant paintings. Large windows fill the rooms with light by day and candlelight sets them aglow at night.

Lunch outside at Fleur de Sel

The back lawn, bordered on one side by a steep hillside, is a perfect place for a summer lunch. The co-owners Sylvie and Martin Ruis-Salvadore are an ideal team (N and I have noticed that many of the best run and consistently excellent restaurants are run by couples--one of the pair in the kitchen and one out front). At Fleur de Sel, Sylvie is in the front of the house making everyone welcome and orchestrating the seamless and professional service, and chef Martin is in the kitchen. The food is spectacular, the kind of food you dream about and long for when you’re 2000 km away. Martin studied at the Cordon Bleu and worked with chefs at both one and two starred Michelin restaurants in Dublin, Ireland and Lyon, France. Now, using the bounty of Nova Scotia’s fish, produce, and wine, and his French influenced cooking acumen, he makes food into art (but accessible, highly edible, art). Since our initial visit, we’ve been back to Fleur de Sel four times-- always making at least one detour to Lunenburg during our summer holiday on Nova Scotia’s south shore for a lunch or dinner at Fleur de Sel. We are always excited when we read accolades about Fleur de Sel. Good Luck this week Martin!

Butter poached lobster served 'naked' at Fleur de Sel

The Canadian Culinary Championships take place this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at various locations in Toronto. (Unfortunately, we were already booked for a slow food event at Toronto’s Grano restaurant when we received Fleur de Sel’s email about the championships. We’ll be dining elsewhere, Martin, but we’ll be thinking of you.)

A glamourous fish stew at Fleur de Sel

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