It was an offer than would excite any young chef. A restaurant group in the New York City area was looking to change the style of its upscale Tuscan steak house in Hoboken, New Jersey. Management asked Seadon Shouse an intriguing question: “If you could do whatever you wanted with this restaurant, what would you do?”
Shouse thought back to the comfort food of his youth. Despite a resumé stacked with high-end U.S. restaurants from Manhattan and Nantucket to Kentucky and Florida, Shouse grew up in Eagle Head on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, not far from Liverpool. He learned to cook the way many chefs do, preparing meals for his family at an early age. No modern conveniences here: the Shouse family lived completely off the grid until he was six. They cooked on a wood stove and drew water with a hand pump.
Shouse’s pantry was the land and sea around him. He caught mackerel and pollock on the government wharf, foraged for mussels and clams on the beach at low tide, picked wild blueberries and fresh vegetables from the family garden. He milked the goats that his family raised.
The idea of bringing fresh, Nova Scotia inspired food to Hoboken excited him. “Not Nova Scotian food per se, but my version of it,” he says. “Sustainable, seasonal, coastal cuisine: the kind of food I grew up with.” The restaurant group liked the idea too. They took it to their marketing firm, who came up with a name for the establishment: Halifax Restaurant.
Famous as the hometown of Frank Sinatra and the first organized baseball game, Hoboken boasts a magnificent view of the Lower Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River; Halifax Restaurant capitalizes on that view.
Patrons dine on Nova Scotia-inspired recipes that would be familiar to someone who grew up in the province. His most popular appetizer is a maple smoked salmon dish inspired by a product that Shouse picks up at grocery stores whenever he goes home.
“A lot of people had never heard of combining salmon and maple flavours but they love it,” he says. “I eat a lot of it when I’m in Nova Scotia.”
Other dishes stray farther afield. While saffron rigatoni with lobster (the most popular entrée) may not immediately conjure up visions of quiet Nova Scotian fishing villages, the lobster that he uses is infused with Nova Scotian flavour.
Shouse admits that most of his seafood comes in fresh from the waters around New Jersey and Long Island Sound. The salmon flies in from Alaska and scallops are local. But the lobster is usually Nova Scotian. So is the salt cod that he whips into fritters. And fresh oysters come in every couple of days from all three Maritime Provinces.
Shouse smokes and cures all his own meat and seafood in-house (including mussels, trout, salmon, and pollock). Pollock is his favourite, in part because he admits he once had contempt for the lowly fish in his youth. “I always caught pollock as a kid and thought it was too bony to cook,” he recalls. “That’s because I didn’t know how to fillet it properly.”
Shouse moved to the U.S. as a teenager when his father accepted a job in Virginia. His plan was to study engineering at Virginia Tech and eventually become a pilot, but he had a change of heart, left the prestigious university and headed back to the Maritimes to attend the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown. “I realized cooking was my passion,” he says.
Today he gets inspiration from his frequent world travels, reading about new trends in cooking, and weekly forays to try out the latest offerings at Manhattan restaurants. And from those carefree days growing up in Eagle Head. “Halifax Restaurant is about fresh food and great seafood. We do it well.”