Jakob Lutes of Port City Royal in Saint John, NB: Mav Chefs 2016
There’s a lot more to eat in the Maritimes than just fish. In fact, Maritime cuisine has a long tradition of comforting, filling recipes — something Chef Jakob Lutes is trying to tell the world through his restaurant. Lutes serves dishes like ploye, crispy haddock and beet salad. His menu rotates regularly, based on the ingredients available locally — and the inspiration provided by his customers and team. At Port City Royal, they do small-batch cooking, preparing just enough for the people they expect and not wasting any food. Modern, with a bit of grit; comfortable luxury — these are just a few ways to describe Port City Royal and the mark Lutes is making on the New Brunswick restaurant scene.
What do you love about cooking?
I enjoy the hospitality of it all. The relationship between the guest and host is fascinating to me. Otherwise, I’m pure glutton.
Why did you choose Saint John as your base of operations?
I felt the history, aesthetics and location could act as a catalyst for the restaurant’s creativity.
Your menu is made up of local Maritime cuisine — why choose to make dishes like ploye?
The cultural history of the Maritimes fascinates me. The food at one point was very much sustenance driven, valuing textures that have since fallen out of fashion, and a taste that favoured the sweet. I like drawing connections between Maritime cuisine and others from around the world. For instance, the ploye would have originally been used as a wrap. Because it’s only cooked on the one side, it folds without tearing, making it well suited for travel. Interpreting these dishes and reimagining them for the restaurant is a lot of fun.
How important are vegetables when you’re planning your menu?
Vegetables are the truest reflection of the season, so they really are the most important element. When they are at their prime, we do our best to leave the flavour as pure as possible. But we also immediately get to work preserving them for the winter and early spring as well.
Using locally sourced ingredients, is there a risk that you’ll run out before a night is through?
There is, especially with proteins. We allow the market to dictate how the menu develops. If our poultry supplier only has eight Cornish game hens, then that is what we work with. The menu will change as often as daily. Most customers understand when a dish is no longer available. Customer inconvenience is the price we pay to ensure the suppliers get a fair wage and that the product is as sustainable as possible.
What is the one thing you absolutely can’t stand about the restaurant industry that you have tried to fix/correct in your restaurant?
Our kitchen isn’t structured in the typical hierarchal way most kitchens are. I want to hear everyone’s opinion. Everyone has a say. But with creativity comes rejection, which can be hard to take. There is a lot more communication needed with this structure.
Where does the name Port City Royal come from?
Monica Adair of Acre Architects suggested it. We had tossed ideas around for months, but Port City Royal encompassed the soul of the restaurant and its place within the city and province.
What is your most memorable/favourite food moment to date?
Breakfast at my grandparents’. The bacon was microwaved and the orange drink was Tang, but everything else was fresh and the hospitality reigned supreme.
What is your favourite comfort meal?
Toast, jam, bacon and eggs, layered as an open sandwich with salt and fresh-cracked pepper.
If you could describe your culinary style in one word, what would it be?
(All photos by Scott Munn)
Blackened catfish with wild garlic purée
We serve this dish with seasonal vegetables (celery root pictured here) and fresh wild garlic bulbs. When not in season, we replace the wild garlic with wild garlic purée (recipe below).
Blackening blend (recipe below)
Coat one side of the catfish with the Blackening Blend.
Heat a small cast-iron pan on high with a tablespoon of butter in the pan. When the butter begins to foam, add the catfish to the pan, blackening blend side down. If the fish begins to fry dry, add another tablespoon of butter. Cook until blackened, approximately 2 minutes.
Flip the fish and remove from heat. Continue to cook for another 2–3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
1 g dried thyme
1 g dried lemon thyme
3 g black pepper
3 g white pepper
3 g dried yarrow
5 g kosher salt
Blend together until uniform.
Wild garlic purée
200 g wild garlic tops
100 g butter
300 g water
50 g pear vinegar
1.3 g xanthan gum
Place the wild garlic, butter, water and vinegar in a blender. Blend until smooth. With the blender running, slowly sprinkle in the xanthan gum. Season to taste.