One-on-one with Chef Craig Flinn of Chives Canadian Bistro
Chef Craig Flinn tells me that pre culinary school, he was on track to become a geographer (spurred on by his love of cartography), so it only makes sense that as a chef, he would be hyper-focused on local terroir, what it means, and how he incorporates it into his restaurant’s menu.
Chef Craig was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (but he now calls Halifax home). In university, he worked part-time jobs in kitchens, however he had his eyes set on a masters in cartography. Fate intervened as his schooling became increasingly computer-based and not being a big fan of computers, he decided to turn his focus to what had previously been his second love: cooking.
He joined culinary school and began his journey in foodservice by working with Chef Michael Smith. After graduating, Chef Craig set off to Europe, then New York City. Though Chef Craig travelled and working across the world, he says he always knew that he wanted to return to Canada, specifically the East Coast to settle down and set up shop.
In 2001, he opened Chives Canadian Bistro and 18 years later I think I can safely say that food lovers across Canada are happy he isn’t technologically-gifted. With Chives, Chef Craig’s goal was to interpret Canadian bistro food, to celebrate Canadian ingredients but filtered through a classically-trained chef with European influence.
This objective reflects the Nova Scotian terroir, according to Chef Craig. He speaks to treasure trove of produce grown in Canada, which he emphasizes is so different in each area. Soil, sea, wind, salt, minerals are unique to each area and alter the taste of food. But he also highlights the history of Nova Scotia; how immigration of cultures (Acadian, Scottish, British, French) have influenced what we eat. He even points out that local farmers are starting to grow veg that are traditionally used in Asian dishes!
Chef Craig now has three different restaurants (Chives, 2 Doors Down Food & Wine, and 2 Doors Down Bar & Bites) and with each of his menus, his aim is to simultaneously point out the uniqueness of Canadian cuisine but also the similarities with other cuisines across the world.
When I ask Chef Craig to describe Canadian food, he gives me a quote that he attributes to Chef Michael Smith, “We are in Canada, we are Canadian, and we’re cooking with Canadian ingredients.” And what could be more Canadian than that?
Do you have a lucky charm in the kitchen?
The closest thing I have to a lucky charm is a still life painting my mother gave me when I went to culinary school. She told me to hang it in my kitchen and think of her so I did! It has been there ever since.
What’s the last thing you burned?
Your favourite spice?
What makes you “kitchen angry”?
Not taking the time to reline garbage bins with the bags properly.
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
Caramel and smoke
What’s your most extravagant purchase?
A blast chiller
Favourite song in the kitchen?
Si Tu Vois Ma Mère by Sidney Bechet
What’s your comfort food?
Grilled cheese and tomato soup.
What’s your most essential tool?
The Vitamix blender – essential for any kitchen.
If you could change anything in the food industry, what would it be?
Respect for reservation times. Please come on time – we lose money when guests don’t make their reservation and it’s hard to make it up elsewhere.
Favourite smell in the kitchen?
Chives and biscuits baking.
What’s your bad habit?
Sneakily eating fresh bread scraps with peanut butter, but I’m working on it!
What do you admire in other chefs?
The simple fact that they keep doing what they do; the industry is hard and often discouraging.
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
The dish you are the proudest of?
White truffle risotto, made for a Michelin 2-star Italian chef in Turin who said it was the best he had ever eaten in his life.
What’s your end of the world menu?
A 10-course, well-paced, Italian feast.
Your favourite advice or quote?
“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
What is the one ingredient that you would never buy if it is not produced locally?
What is your favourite local drink?
Watermelon Blonde beer from Nine Locks.
What is Canadian food to you?
It is everything you can possibly imagine in your mind, influenced by every corner of the world, but centered around a local, seasonal ingredients base… there are no limits.
What makes you proud of the Canadian terroir?
Purity of flavour.
Why do you participate in Food Day Canada?
Because I love being part of a community that stretches across a massive continent, but tied closely together by our love of food.
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