Wildness: Ode To Newfoundland and Labrador

A decade ago, when my wife and I were driving around Newfoundland, we met and befriended one of then-premier Danny Williams’ speechwriters. She told us about Jeremy Charles, a young chef who was making a name for himself at Atlantica in Portugal Cove. We took her advice and had one of the greatest meals of our lives.

Since then, chef Charles has launched Raymonds in 2010, his critically-acclaimed restaurant in St. John’s. Charles has recently published Wildness, his debut cookbook, and it is a loving, gorgeous celebration of Newfoundland and Labrador cuisine and the chef’s unique recipes using the regional wild game, seafood and foraged ingredients.

Wildness includes 160 recipes and over 100 of John Cullen’s stunning photos of the region’s landscapes, people, and chef’s artful dishes. There are also soul-revealing stories from Charles’ family and life in Newfoundland, a cultural history rich with Newfoundland slang by noted author Adam Leith Gollner (The Fruit Hunters, The Book of Immortality, articles in Vice, Vanity Fair, New Yorker and other periodicals), an insightful forward by Fogo Island Inn’s Zita Cobb, and even-deeper insights into the regional cuisine’s roots explained by bayman Jerry Hussey, forager Lori McCarthy, and Inuit polar bear hunter Paul Jararuse. It’s a breathtakingly soulful and revelatory ode to living off the land in Newfoundland and Labrador. The essays lovingly frame chef Charles’ tradition-inspired, groundbreaking recipes.
“I want this book to give a sense of just how rich this province’s food culture is. The idea that Newfoundland cuisine could be among the great cuisines of the world was unimaginable when I was young,” chef Charles writes. “But the fact is, our people have always lived ‘nose to tail’ and farm-to-table; we’re blessed with some of the best raw materials anywhere. It’s always bee wild and seasonal.”

The 41-year old chef is an avid hunter, fisher and forager. Newfoundland is one of the only places in North America where wild game can be served in restaurants, and chef Charles’ passion and respect for wild game is showcased in his restaurant’s unique menu, a natural outgrowth of his life living close to the land and a career that began cutting cod tongues and selling them door to door as a kid,

Charles uses all parts of his wild ingredients in dishes like Grilled Cod’s Head and Birch Syrup, Deep Fried Cod Bladder, Partridge Liver Mousse and Molasses Lavash, Turr Breast and Heart, Seal Carpaccio, Moose Cheeks, and Moose Blood Tart. He also offers his unique spin on mouth-watering recipes using beef, lamb, pork, halibut, trout, shrimp, clam and scallop. The recipes he provides from his kitchen at Raymonds are inspiring and always respectful of his regional ingredients, and most are simple enough to try at home.

Chef is proud of the sustainable, hand-lined cod served at Raymonds, “because it doesn’t disturb the fishing grounds.” Try his recipe for Fish Soup (cod, shrimp, lots of white wine), Cod with Sherry Lentils, Whelks “cooked slow and low on an oven or over an open fire, smoked or eaten raw,” and Fish and Brewis. Charles calls that “one-pot wonder” his “death row meal.”

The dessert chef at Raymonds offers more regional treats including recipes for Alder Ganache Chocolates, Black Sesame and Sea Urchin Macaron, and Plums in Beeswax.
Wildness is an amazingly rich collection of rustic and sophisticated dishes from a chef who the New York Times says “exudes the quiet confidence of someone who knows he has the touch, the taste and the eye to turn parochial products into plates of world-class food.” Wildness is a great book and a loving gift from a great chef. Highest recommendation.

Jeremy Charles (Phaidon 256 pages, $59.95)

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