Food Tourism & Fogo Island Inn

There’s a terrific survivalist spirit bursting out of chef McDonald’s kitchen, where most everything is made from scratch – not just bread and bacon but mustard and vinegar too.

Looking out over Fogo island’s tough, rocky shore, you sip a glass of Quidi Vidi lager (brewed with water from 25,000-year-old icebergs) and ponder the question, how? How have folks survived for centuries off a land that seems so ungenerous and unforgiving? Luckily, at this remarkable island outpost, you’ve got insider knowledge on your side. Zita Cobb, a tech millionaire, returned home with ambition and fearlessness. She hired a Newfoundland-born architect, Todd Saunders, to set Fogo Island Inn’s dining room on stilts, and populated it with locally crafted furnishings. And another Newfoundlander, Murray McDonald, came home from away to cook.

There’s a terrific survivalist spirit bursting out of chef McDonald’s kitchen, where most everything is made from scratch – not just bread and bacon but mustard and vinegar too. A pat of ethereal butter bleeds whey as you knife it. A cocktail of spruce-infused vodka and sharp ginger syrup flaunts my favourite bar trick of the year: Fresh spruce tips sit at the bottom of the glass beneath half an orange that’s wedged in to create a seal, floating the drink up top.

McDonald has softened the edges of the buzzy New Nordic cooking, borrowing the foraged moss and kelp (see following page) but rooting his dishes in what he calls “New Newfoundland cooking.” Lobscouse, a traditional stew of scrod, salt beef, potato and cabbage, is only gently deconstructed via precise knife work. My waitress – they’re all from the island and knowledgeable as all heck – informs me that the sauce, made from the vegetable cooking water, is a “pot licker,” like her mother makes. Pickled vegetables surround- ed by “dirt” – a dusting of dried mushrooms, chicory and cocoa – would be pretentious served in the city, but the dish seems well earned here.

As the sun sets on your lassie tart – that’s molasses, in island speak, balanced by a zinger sorbet of foraged partridgeberries – you can sit back, enjoy the view and make plans to skip tomorrow’s ferry home. We’ve got everything we need right here.

“Back in the day, if you didn’t have a small farm, a garden, a root cellar and a store of preserves here, you starved,” says Fogo Island Inn chef Murray McDonald. He scours all corners of the 240-square-kilometre island for unexpected treasures. “Ninety-five percent of what’s in our kitchen, I know the hands that touched it, including my own.”

Canada's Best New Restaurants, 2013, Enroute Magazine