Eating local in Newfie, down to its salt

Newfoundlanders take their food very, very seriously. Given they are so remote and that they experience such extreme, cold temperatures in the winter, great care is taken in the production of every aspect of their food, from the way their vegetables and fruits are preserved for the winter (this is the largest home of “root cellars” in the world, or old food storage systems that are built into the ground; these are basically like historical refrigerators before these existed) to the killing of wild moose, the preservation and fishing of their most famous fish, cod, all the way down to how their salt derived from the local salt water that surrounds them. I was greatly anticipating eating the local food here, and I certainly was not let down.

Newfoundland’s “summer” seems to be more like New York City’s “spring” in that everything we get at the Greenmarket in New York seems to come here around July or August of every year. This includes short-season vegetables like garlic scapes, which are pungent and much loved, as well as chanterelle mushrooms, one of the most expensive mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, and one that I still have been too cheap to buy myself to make at home. We had the privilege of dining at one of Canada’s most famous restaurants last night in St. John’s, Raymond’s, which is known for its dedication to local, sustainable, and wild foods. Most of its food is wild and foraged within kilometers of the restaurant, which adds to its mystique, particularly in an era where pretty much everything we eat is farmed and domesticated, whether it’s a carrot or a sheep.

The original chef of Raymond’s, Peter Burt, is known for his creativity plus his passionate obsession for salt. He grew frustrated with the constant import of food into Newfoundland and asked, why are we importing something as simple as salt when we are literally surrounded on all sides by salt water? So he refined his method of salt making during his years at Raymond’s and eventually left the restaurant to be a salt maker full time out in Bonavista. He now runs his salt business with his partner/wife as a two-person show full time and sells to specialty shops and chefs around the local area, throughout Canada, and even in the U.S. now. His business is simply named Newfoundland Salt Company.

That kind of passion is so inspiring to me. Salt seems like it’s just this little thing in the grand scheme of food, but Peter Burt’s obsession with it in fine-tuning the granules in its size and shape is just so quirky and fascinating. That’s the kind of thing that gets me really excited about food; we think salt is salt and sugar is sugar, but there is so much that goes into making these seemingly simple ingredients that the average person just doesn’t know about and thus, doesn’t appreciate at first glance. And I can say as someone who has had this salt multiple times on this trip, at Raymond’s, Mallard Cottage, and the Boreal Diner (delicious locally sourced restaurants in Quidi Vidi fishing village and Bonavista) that this salt is unique and a true standout. You can taste and feel the difference when it sits on your tongue and as you’re crunching down on it with your teeth. A few years ago, I started getting into salt because of the famous sea salt I’d repeatedly read about from South Brittany in France, fleur de sel de Guerande. These salts are said to be high in minerals, lower in sodium (the irony), and have no additives. But this Newfoundland Salt Company sea salt is one of the most beautiful and to date, likely my favorite salt I’ve had and purchased. It’s meant to be used as a “finishing” salt, so for sprinkling on top of vegetables, salads, meats, and even baked goods right before serving. I never thought I’d be this excited about sea salt, but I can’t wait to use this on something special when I get home.

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