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summer forage with Ross Larkin & Celeste Mah


May 29, 2018 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ in your neighbourhood,leaders & followers,living la vida local!


man Ross Larkin woman Celeste Mah boy Draven stand together ready to hike down a gravel road with cattails and woods in the background. boy carries picnic bag

by Kim Todd

Now that he has won the title of Top Chef Canada, the whole country knows that Ross Larkin is a wizard in the kitchen.  That ability comes as no surprise to anyone who knows his family.  Food runs deep – the acquisition, preparation, presentation as well as consumption. 

Food was the family business of his grandparents Henry and Anne Larkin. The two ran a stellar fish and chips shop, Henry’s Lunch, on Merrymeeting Road in St. John’s for decades, and above they raised a glorious and rowdy crowd of five boys and one girl all of whom worked at the store one time or another. The big family table was the focal point for food and time the family shared. 

Right from the get-go the appearance of Ross was a disruption in the food system.  Ross is the son of Craig, and Craig was cooking on Good Friday – the busiest Friday of all 52 busy Fridays in the year – when the time came for Ross to enter the world.  The queue that Friday was longer than usual as result, with Henry and the rest doing double duty, but it was the start of a life in which food mattered.

Six years on, Ross was peeling potatoes for the store.  One, two, skip a few…. he began working up the ranks of the restaurant circuit in St. John’s, and went on to spend time in BC where he found the amazing Celeste Mah and she headed east with him.  The two married in 2014, and grandmother Anne was Ross’ ‘best man’.   First one, then the other found joy in work at the place Anthony Bourdain calls the best restaurant in Canada, Raymonds.  Ross is Chef de cuisine, and Celeste is the Executive Pastry Chef.  They love the food, the love the work, and the love begins outside the kitchen, in the ocean and shoreline and fields and woods where they explore what grows to seek and find scents and tastes and colours and terroirs that transform sustenance to a moving, sensational, experience.

In the summer of 2017 the Guide to the Good got the chance to be part of a family and friends foraging adventure with Ross Larkin and Celeste Mah.  We had been on the beach before, but this time we experienced things with fresh eyes and open ears.  On a rock in a meadow just up from the shore, Ross and Celeste shared info and inspiration about the joy of eating close to the land.  The pictures tell the story – video links below.  

a dividing gravel treed road with ocean in the distance under overcast skies. sign reads Cribbes Path

Tors Cove is an hour or so up the shore from St. John’s. down at the beach off Cribbie Road is a foragers paradise.. Ross and Celeste come here often.

Ross Larkin, Draven and Celeste Mah getting ready to forage on summer day.

food and foraging is a family affair. at 6, Ross’ son Draven is an experienced forager.  he loves being out in the woods, playing by the water and he knows what to bring. foraging equipment includes bags to collect in and packs with gear (a knife) for a picnic.  all good forages end in a feast.

Raymonds Chef de Cuisine Ross Larkin foraging - corn lily

two steps out of the car, the forage begins! Ross’ first pick was a corn lily; he says you use the corn lilly similar to how you’d use a leek, with some extra cooking time to reduce the stringiness. but it doesn’t taste like a leek, and it doesn’t taste like corn either. but its good in everything.

pale green succulent plant with tiny blue flowers growing on the beach

Ross loves the the oyster leaf plant. each stage of the vibrant flower – from bud to bloom – offers a unique flavour and use. Ross ladds them to a variety of dishes raw, and likes to pickle them as well to get through the slow months of winter.

wild roses and a page from Edible Plants of of Newfoundland and Labrador - Peter J. Scott, Boulder Publications

foraging was essential to survival in Newfoundland not all that long ago, but dont let enthusiasm override common sense. as Ross says, “Dont eat anything strange that youre not sure of!” Books like Peter Scotts Edible Plants of Newfoundland and Labrador – Field Guide Boulder Publications is a good start. and people like Lori McCarthy of Cod Sounds have made a vocation out of exploring and knowing our wild food sources. that’s making it possible for the public to enjoy the fruits of forage.

hands of Raymonds Executive Pastry Chef Celeste Mah on the beach at Cribbe Road holding scissors and a pink wild rose

amazing things, these wild roses grow right on the beach. they are a favourite for Celeste. shes continually experimenting new ways to integrate, infuse, and enjoy the delicate scents and strong flavour.  the roses show up on Raymonds’ menu in Rose Petal Cake, cream, ice cream and more. 

 

little dark haired boy holding a sea urchin on a beach with hills and trees in the background

sea urchins are a favourite beach pick-up for Draven, and most who have had the pleasure of walking a beach. spikey spindly and plentiful, sea urchins are frequently found on Raymonds menu.

three small periwinkle wet from the sea in the open hand of Raymonds Chef de Cuisine Ross Larkin. there is a tattoo on the man's wrist.

the periwinkle is fairly new love for Ross – Celeste’s dad introduced him. he picks them right off the rocks and treat them the same as you’d treat mussels. they’re a bit of work – a little more scooping and some cleaning often necessary. but Ross says they are well worth the effort.

hands of Raymonds Chef de Cuisine Ross Larkin foraging - standing on a rock at the sea shore holding bull kelp

bull kelp is a favourite of Ross for its many uses. its easily recognized by its bulb and tail, and its easy to harvest at low tide. he cooks it to soften, dries and powders and adds to any sort of vegetable dish. it’s got loads of natural agar so its great for thickening. it’s also great for salads and for pickling.

hands of Raymonds Chef de Cuisine Ross Larkin foraging - kneeling on a rock at the sea shore holding dulse

where ocean meets shore there is usually dulse. it can be eaten straight from the sea, or dried and powdered. Ross likes to sprinkle it over butter.

hands of Raymonds Chef de Cuisine Ross Larkin foraging - standing on a rock at the sea shore holding sea lettuce

delicate, bright, and growing right around the shore rocks, sea lettuce tastes light and subtle. Ross likes to dry it and he might be starting a thing with sea lettuce chips. . keep an eye out.

 

hands of Raymonds Chef de Cuisine Ross Larkin after foraging - at the sea shore arranging food on a railway tie

.after the forage is the family feast on the beach. choices of what was picked was added to fresh tomatoes, local sea salt, a velvety charcuterie, good bread and good coffee.

seven people - adults and one child standing close together on the beach with an overcast sky in the background

its a family thing. the foraged feast is sustenance for body and soul. the gathering, preparing and sharing of food is a fundamental cultural bond. everyone is happy!

dark pink fireweed flowers with a meadow and ocean in the background.

when you get to go foraging with Ross and Celeste, its shocking to see that food is everywhere when you know how to look and take the time. it’s right there – in the forest, in the meadows, on the beach, and on the shore.  it’s a thoughtful process that slows you down, and creates the chance to connect with the amazingly abundant sources of food, with nature, and with others – bonds that sustain. 

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This adventure took place in July 2017 and included family – Celeste Mah, Draven Larkin, Ross Larkin, Annette Rumsey, Supermodel Rayon Larkin, Gabrielle Racansky, and friends – Perla Hernandez  (videography), and Kim Todd (photography).   

The video – Kim Todd interviewing Ross and Celeste – was intended to stream as a facebook live but the bars were not reliable and the wind often took the sound..  It’s unedited.  We lost something about 3/4 of the way through, so the second link restarts the topic (Celeste and her beloved wild roses) and goes on. Near the end Ross shares some secrets about alder buds and wild game

1 guide to the good gets to forage with Ross & Celeste – on the rock at Tors Cove 

if link fails – copy and paste https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6EvRxlUoyY 

2 – guide to the good gets to forage with Ross and Celeste – on the rock at Tors Cove