An Interview with Chef Renee Lavallee of Canteen in Nova Scotia

Chef Renee Lavallee has worked in restaurants across the globe, and now calls Dartmouth, Nova Scotia home. After opening the successful sandwich shop The Canteen in downtown Dartmouth, Renee decided to expand into a full-service restaurant, The Canteen on Portland, just three blocks away. Renee will be speaking in Toronto at the The Terroir Symposium 2017. The Terroir team spoke with Chef Renee hot on the heels of her new restaurant’s opening.

Terroir Team: Congratulations on the new space! What can guests of the restaurant expect from the Portland Street location?

Chef Renee: They can expect to get an unpretentious, locally and seasonally sourced meal in an atmosphere that feels like home.

Were there any unexpected obstacles faced during the renovation process? 

Thank god no! Everything went pretty smoothly and according to plan. We were prepared to deal with crazy issues, but luckily it was all good.

The Canteen’s food philosophy is “honest, unpretentious food, made with love.” How does this vision guide you as you put your new, expanded team together? How do you define “honest” cuisine? 

Honest food is food that I cook from the heart. Nothing crazy, but just simple, tasty food. I know that sounds boring, but it isn’t. I cook like I would cook for my own family and friends. I want the guests to feel like they are eating at my kitchen counter at home.

How do the landscape and offerings of Nova Scotia inspire and guide your menus? 

I find inspiration from many things that are found in Nova Scotia; the seafood from the ocean, the fruit and vegetables from the Valley. Everything from the the smell of the salt air, to the fog and even the snow inspire my mood. Luckily, I am able to change the menu almost every day, so if I feel inspired by the sun, the rain or even the snow, I can do so easily.

What makes the ingredients of Nova Scotia unique?

I think what makes them unique are the people that are producing them. Nova Scotians are an interesting breed and it’s their personalities that come through in their products.

You are a passionate supporter of local producers and suppliers. How do you foster these relationships and how important do you feel they are to the restaurant?

It’s extremely important for me to have amazing relationships with my suppliers; I respect them and in turn I respect their products. People who eat my food know that I am trying to only bring out the best of what I am brought, instead of trying to mask it with different flavours. I enjoy talking to the men and women who supply The Canteen on Portland. From Ted Hutten, who supplies our vegetables, to Jamie and Sara of Off Beet Farm or even our meat supplier, Oulton’s Farm. We all know each other, and help each other out. It’s an amazing community to be part of.

What do you cook for yourself on your day off? 

I often cook whatever we picked up at the market the day before; usually I’ll make a big batch of hearty soup for lunch that we eat with Birdie’s Bakery sourdough, and for dinner we often have friends over to share with us. It’s roast chicken or boiled dinner or my spaghetti with meat sauce. Always simple, comforting food that doesn’t take too long to prepare so that I can enjoy spending time with my kids.

What’s your favourite cooking tool? 

My Benriner (mandolin) and my rasp. I am lost without them.

What would you eat for your last meal? 

An insanely huge ribeye steak with spinach, boiled new potatoes and Bearnaise sauce accompanied by a ginormous piece of Taleggio cheese, a bottle of Barolo and a handful of cheesies.

What do you hope that Terroir guests will take away from your presentation? 

My passion for my profession and my surroundings.

Visit Chef Renee at The Canteen on Portland next time you are in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Join Chef Renee and our other presenters at this year’s Terroir Symposium on May 29th. Buy your tickets today.

22 Portland Street
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia  B2Y 1G9
PHONE: 902-425-9272 WEBSITE:


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