Food Day Canada on Fogo Island

8 Aug

Food Day Canada falls on the August long weekend each year. It’s a coast-to-coast-to-coast celebration of our national bounty. For the last 11 years, food activist, historian and author Anita Stewart has challenged home cooks and chefs across the country to create and share a meal made only with local ingredients, for the occasion.

Last year I spent the day on Prince Edward Island with Chef Michael Smith and met potato farmers, vodka distillers, lobster fishers for a Maritimes feast and dancing on the wharf. This year I celebrated Food Day Canada on the edge of the Atlantic, looking out to Iceberg Alley, Newfoundland, from the dining room at Fogo Island Inn, where Chef Murray McDonald has been experimenting with everything from caribou moss to salt pork to crowberries to put a contemporary spin on traditional Newfoundland fare. Here he talks us through his tasting menu, which uses ingredients uniquely from Fogo Island.

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Crab, Sea Salt and Seaside Greens
“In March last year, when the slob ice came in, we went out to get seawater to make our own salt. On one side of the island, we couldn’t get down to the shore, because there were such big waves, so we tried the other side. Same thing. There were these 40-50 foot waves crashing down–all white–crashing down on the rocks. It was awe inspiring. I remember looking down and seeing this crab, all smashed up by the waves. It inspired this dish: a sea salt meringue, with crab, seaside rocket, sea celery and plantain.”

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Salt Cod, Praties, Drawn Butter
“Here traditional salt cod is rehydrated and served up with a couple of new potatoes crushed up on the plate with butter. Simple! ‘Praties’ is the Irish slang term for potatoes. Salt cod is fresh cod, split and dried. It gets done on flakes. It’s hard to find nowadays; I got some from Alf Coffin, a local fisher/gardener, and Aidan Peyton, a fisher/carpenter.”

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Seal, Crowberries and Caribou Moss
“Seal is a common thing to eat here and for centuries was essential to survival. I support any kind of hunt with regulations and quotas. The thing I don’t support is fishing for shark fins, where people pillage the fins then thrown the animal back into the water to suffer. I slow-cook my seal. It tastes kind of like fishy duck.”

“Caribou moss is a lichen that caribou eat. The caribou have enzymes in their stomach that can break it down. It’s extremely acidic, so if you eat it raw, it will give you a slightly bad stomach. It’s not going to kill you. In survival guides they do say you should eat it, if it’s your only option, because it has all the nutrients necessary to keep you alive. Caribou moss takes on the flavours of whatever you cook it with. It has an interesting texture: spongy and seaweedy.”

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Fresh Cod, Scrunchions, Mustard Pickles
“Cod is so popular on Fogo Island, that people don’t even call it ‘cod,’ they call it ‘fish.’ Scrunchions is salt-pork fat cut into small pieces, and cooked down, so it’s nice and crunchy. And mustard pickles are another traditional food. Pickling is a big part of the culture here: The growing season is short, so people have always preserved vegetables and fruit for the winter months.”

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Free-run Chicken, New Vegetables, Crispy Skin and Rich Broth
“The chicken is from Winston, a local oil painter who also farms. The broth gets poured on at the table, just as it’s served. This dish is our take on French coq au vin.”

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Smoked Lamb, Beets
“The lambs are from Tilting, an Irish community on the island. Beets grow very well here and are popular, because they can be held in the root cellars for a long time. Local gardeners do fennel, Swiss chard, zucchini and all kinds of greens here too these days, but it takes a lot of time. Back in the day, they did easier stuff because they were so busy fishing.”

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Eggs, Wild Berries
“For dessert, I’m doing meringue and foam with wild foraged berries. Local foragers, like Mona Brown, who also runs the Hart House Museum, pick fruits for the inn. We’re going to do blueberries, partridge berries and bakeapples.”

“Blueberries grow wild here intertwined with the juniper, so they have an incredible gin-like flavour to them. Partridge berries are most people’s favourite berries in Newfoundland; they’re very tart. I put in the minimal amount of sugar to focus on their tannic flavours. Bakeapples kind of taste like sweet stinky socks–they’re the blue cheese of berries, so you either love them or hate them. I love them! ”

Photo: Alex Fradkin (

Happy Food Day Canada!

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Fogo Island Inn‘s restaurant has just been shortlisted for enRoute magazine’s best new Canadian restaurant award–the only Atlantic-Canada restaurant on the list this year. Find out more about all the nominees and vote for your favourites here.

7 Responses to “Food Day Canada on Fogo Island”

  1. Roy west August 8th, 2013 at 8:39 PM #

    Newfoundlanders are a hearty bunch -while your photo’s of each food item looks nice where is the food ? Or do i assume this was just for a photo shoot and when i order potatoes and saltcod i will get more than 3 small potatoes and 3 mini pieces of cod? AS for the SEAL -seal is killed in the spring,your photo would be of canned seal ? And like shark fin -most Seals are killed only for their flippers which is eaten-the rest of the seal is normally left on the ice for other animals to eat.

    • Valerie Howes August 9th, 2013 at 6:50 AM #

      Hi Roy. The portions are small indeed, but this was a one-off Food Day Canada tasting menu of several courses to be eaten one after the other, so designed to give people a sample of everything. If you went to the inn on a regular day, entree portions would of course be heartier. It was seal meat and not flipper that was on the menu, and I can check with Chef whether canned, fresh or frozen.

  2. Valerie Howes August 9th, 2013 at 11:41 AM #

    Update from Chef Murray: the meat is hunted sustainably and bought fresh in spring, then frozen. Like other Newfoundland chefs, he uses every part of the animal. He also notes that these days it is illegal for sealers not to sell the entire animal: pelt, flippers and meat.

  3. Amber August 9th, 2013 at 12:51 PM #

    I recently visited Fogo Island and the Inn (I’m from the west coast of NL) and was wowed by the natural beauty of the place as well as the splendour of the Inn. I didn’t stay at the Inn but ate a phenomenal breakfast there! Though I don’t eat animal products, the steel-cut oatmeal I ordered off the menu – complete with maple syrup, molasses and partridgeberries – was simply divine. And I hugely respect the islanders’ and chefs’ dedication to serving responsibly ‘harvested’ local food, whether flora or fauna. Great article!

    • Valerie Howes August 9th, 2013 at 9:55 PM #

      Glad to hear you enjoyed your experience, Amber. And thanks for sharing it. Partridgeberries became my vice on Fogo Island–one evening I ate a whole jar of partridgeberry jam!

  4. Diane Davis August 11th, 2013 at 7:43 PM #

    Like cod, Newfoundlanders have many ways to preserve seal meat to last a family dependant on it until other meat or fish was available. Seal oil and seal skin clothing are among the products made with the parts that are not edible.
    Remember, we eat cods tongues and cheeks. Nothing goes to waste.
    Having eaten 3 courses at the Inn twice, I can only imagine it would take determination to finish dessert at the end of 6 courses! Great menu Chef Murray.

  5. Brenda August 16th, 2013 at 11:48 AM #

    I have many family members in Fogo, but have never been there before. I’d love to take a trip over sometime (I’m on the west coast of NL).

    With that said, I would have much rather seen traditional Newfoundland cuisine rather than artistic samples of food. Local ingredients or not, these dishes are not what is typically eaten in NL.

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