With more diversity and a growing emphasis on local flavours, the way Nova Scotians think about food is transforming. Meet the people behind the shift
Gold Island Bakery
Scotch Village, N.S.
Baking in a wood-fired oven is “a magical dance to get it all right,” says Gold Island Bakery owner Jessica Ross. You can’t just turn a dial to 450 degrees and hold it there. First, you burn a fire, calculating the amount of wood to hit the sweet spot. The doughs must be perfectly timed to rise and then bake at the right moment as the oven’s heat descends. Ross single-handedly bakes 16 loaves at a time, 100–150 in eight hours. “The timing is pretty, pretty tight,” she says.
Gold Island started out in a rented kitchen with bicycle delivery. Today she operates out of a 20-foot shipping container on a co-op farm she’s co-owns in Scotch Village, N.S. A mason built the brick oven inside the tight space and shipped it to the farm.
“Once it arrived, it was literally just a container with a hole for a door and a wood fired oven inside of it,” says Ross. She installed tile, windows, a door, siding, and insulation, plus added running water and electricity. “Now it’s a full commercial kitchen.”
What makes Ross’s bread different is her dedication to only using whole grain, organic flours from Speerville Flour Mill in Speerville, New Brunswick. The rustic flours are as far from white flour as you can get.
“They’re very coarse and super branny,” she says. “White flour gets pasteurized as it’s made, but these flours use a stone mill which keeps them quite living and raw. They have a lot of enzymes and activity. You have to kind of tame the wild a little bit.”
Achieving her commercial license in 2019 means expansion in 2020. Find her bread, pastries, and a selection of cheeses at the Warehouse Market on Isleville Street, the Halifax Brewery Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, and at pick-up locations through online ordering.
Ami Goto and Eric McIntyre
Kitsune Food Co., Halifax
Not everyone who calls in a delivery order is polite, so Eric McIntyre didn’t think much of an aggressive call one Friday night. But when the person picking up the order said he was from the online delivery service Doordash, McIntyre’s partner in business and life Ami Goto knew something was wrong.
“Ami realized that they had taken all the restaurants that weren’t on delivery platforms and put them on their site,” he says. “We were like, what the hell? We didn’t consent to have our information on there.”
While most small restaurants focus on growth, the couple behind Kitsune have all the business they want. In 2015, they sold Dharma Sushi, their 40-seat restaurant downtown, to open a four-seat Japanese snack and beer bar out of a cubby hole beside Mother’s Pizza on Agricola Street.
“It’s like 80%–90% less stress, but the physical work is double,” says Goto. McIntyre picks up speaking when she stops, “The exhaustion is easily more manageable than the stress. Stress eats at you.”
Being the only employees means they touch every ingredient and every dish, and can be obsessive about the quality of their food. Working with a delivery platform could mean sushi sitting in a heated car for 30 minutes. They won’t risk it.
Most orders are takeout and most customers live within walking distance. Those who dine in are arm’s length from where their food is made, which means lots of opportunity to get to know the folks behind the counter.
“We have a relationship with our customers now,” says McIntyre. “They don’t just know us, they know us well.” Last year when the couple closed for a vet emergency, they returned to cards and calls from customers asking after the cats. “That kind of relationship that we’ve built is really special,” says Goto.
David and Jennifer Greenberg
Abundant Acres Farm
Centre Burlington, N.S.
By late November, customers at the Warehouse Market on Isleville Street ask every week if the market will close for winter soon. When they find out it’s open year-round, says David Greenberg, their faces light up.
Greenberg and his wife Jennifer own Abundant Acres Farm, and Jennifer is the force behind the Warehouse Market, open Thursday-Saturday, in partnership with Holdanca Farm and Afishionado. The combination of businesses makes it easier for North End residents to eat farm-fresh food all year.
Abundant Acres is home to one of the first climate batteries in Canada, which allows the farm to grow greens year round. Three fans suck hot air from the top of the greenhouse and push it back up through the cool ground via a series of buried tubes. Greenberg says to costs about $500 per year to heat the 32-by-140-foot greenhouse.
While the heated greenhouse helps, importing additional produce in winter is key to the market’s success.
Each winter “our market just kind of ran out of steam,” he says. “Our greens would sell out and it would be just [root vegetables]. People stopped coming to shop from us. When we did it, people said, ‘I can’t believe you’re importing produce!’ It was almost like we were betraying the cause. But we became a convenient place for some guy who wants to make an omelette for his girlfriend on Saturday morning to come and just buy red pepper.”
In addition to selling via the market, Abundant Acres offers a CSA (community supported agriculture) box. Subscribers pay up front for a season’s worth of vegetables and pick up their box at the market weekly from May–October. On Sundays, the farm offers home delivery of boxes of surplus produce from the market to reduce food waste.
Lyndell Findlay and Catherine Keeler
Blue Harbour Cheese
Terroir, from the French word for land, describes how a region’s climate and soil affects the flavour of food grown or raised there. Most people immediately associate it with wine, but the women behind Blue Harbour Cheese in Dartmouth want you to think cheese.
“Milk from Nova Scotia tastes like milk from Nova Scotia,” says Catherine Keeler, head cheese maker. “It represents what the animals are eating and it contains our coastal, salty air. What’s in the milk here is what you can’t find anywhere else in the world.”
Blue Harbour currently produces three cheeses. Urban Blue is a semi-soft, cow’s milk blue that’s not as pungent as some of the style. Hip Hop is a semi-soft, ewe’s milk washed-rind cheese, the same cheese style as Oka. It’s rinsed for two months in local ale. Electric Blue is a semi-soft, ewe’s milk blue cheese that delivers a grassy tang.
Last year, the cheese producer moved from Halifax’s North End to its new production plant in Dartmouth. While construction faced the usual delays of any large project, owner Lyndell Findlay says her team of three will ramp up production in 2020.
The new location is federally licensed, which means Blue Harbour can now sell outside of Nova Scotia. “It’s kind of been a gradual thing, but this time next year you’ll see a very different kind of company,” says Findlay.
Blue Harbour’s new digs hosts a small cheese shop highlighting an array of products from local producers and jellies from the Galloping Cows in Port Hood, N.S. Plus, it offers a small library of cheese books. “People come in and ask about something they tried when they were travelling and we can suggest something local that might be similar,” says Findlay.
The Savour Food and Wine Festival showcases local flavours
Atlantic Canada’s largest food and wine event, the Savour Food and Wine Festival, coordinated by the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia (RANS), turns 17 this February.
The festival opens with Dine Around on Feb. 1. All month restaurants across the province serve prix fixe menus priced $10–$50, in $10 increments. Find a list of participating restaurants at savourfoodandwine.com.
Imbibe invites Nova Scotia’s best mixologists to strut their skills crafting sample-size cocktails while attendees vote for their favourites. It happens Feb. 6 at the Lord Nelson Hotel on South Park Street.
Just as February seems darkest, the Craft Beer Cottage Party reminds beer enthusiasts summer always returns. On Feb. 8, stroll the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market with your tasting glass to sample wares from 30 Nova Scotian breweries.
On Feb. 20 the festival’s signature event, the Savour Food and Wine Show at the Halifax Convention Centre hosts over 80 of the province’s top restaurants and food and beverage producers.
“It’s supposed to be little tastings, but at some booths it’s like a meal,” says Gordon Stewart, RANS’s executive director. “I always say, ‘Take your appetite, take your liver, and don’t ask for seconds, just keep moving. That’s how you make it through the show.”
Finally, Rare and Fine offers samples of over 40 exclusive wines scoring 90+ points each from global wine publications. It happens on Feb. 21 at the Halifax Convention Centre.