Anita Stewart’s Canada File: Rossmount Inn, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick
Story & photos by Anita Stewart
Don’t move a mountain, buy one!
Often it’s great innkeepers who share the successes of their friends. In this case, it was Bill Bennett of Langdon Hall Country House Hotel, a Relais et Châteaux member in Ontario who guided me to Rossmount Inn. At the time, some 15 years ago, it was easy to miss. My advice? DON’T!
Just outside the bustle of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, an artsy coastal village on the Bay of Fundy, Rossmount Inn (c 1889) overlooks the panorama of Passamaquoddy Bay, a wide ragged inlet off the Bay of Fundy just north of the Gulf of Maine.
Chris and Graziella Aerni, a Swiss couple with huge food experience, became Rossmount’s innkeepers in 2001 and embraced the gracious old landmark with all its quirks and possibilities. Rossmount has been truly reborn. But for the Aernis, the real deal clincher was that they also got to own Chamcook Mountain, the highest peak in the Province of New Brunswick. When their offer was accepted, they immediately phoned home to brag to their Swiss relatives that they’d bought a mountain.
With Chris in the kitchen and Graziella welcoming guests, they have effectively changed the food life of this very rural part of Canada. In 2017, Chris was part of a team of Canadian chefs who cooked at The Beard House in Manhattan.
We first met on a hot August day. Before I had even unpacked we were off down the coast in Chris’s 4×4 to harvest rockweed, a sea plant that grows along the coast and can easily be gathered as the famous Fundy tides recede. After blanching, it turns bright green and is perfect as a bed on which to serve fresh Village Bay oysters or another local delicacy, steamed periwinkles. Seaweed, from kelp to sea lettuce, often surfaces on his menus as does a wealth of other foraged ocean-side plants…goose tongue greens and salicornia (a.k.a. sea asparagus).
It used to be that restaurants on the coast discounted their Maritime ingredients. But chefs like Chris and a handful of others with a similar mindset have had a major impact. There are now Community Supported Fisheries (CFAs) similar to the more familiar CSAs that have sprung up across Canada to share fresh organic produce. Award-winning wineries have opened in nearby Nova Scotia where cool climate viticulture flourishes. There are now 30 micro-breweries in New Brunswick and a tremendous cider-maker, Verger Belliveau, near Moncton.
While I was there, the kitchen was busy cleaning giant cultured scallops and splitting fresh Fundy herring, saving the roe to use as a garnish. The herring weir fishery is one of New Brunswick’s most traditional. Using a complex system of long poles jammed into the ocean bed or even long pieces of brush in shallower waters, as supports, nets are strung in a cunning variety of patterns to trap the fish when they’re running.
Chris goes directly to the wharfs to buy his from the fishermen who land them by the bus-pan full. He may layer them with fresh rosemary and thyme, before simply pan-frying them. Or he may marinate the tiny fish to serve with potato salad and pickled wild leeks.
If you’re lucky you may taste sea urchin, a shellfish that till recently was largely ignored in Atlantic Canada or shad roe from the spring time fish that appears briefly in local rivers and is on the menu for only two or three days. There is even a small quota of local halibut. Chris has even been known to dive for scallops.
“This is lobster country,” he boasts. So when you go be ready for some of the finest you’ll ever taste!
For years gardener Beth Beurkle was “our godsend just down the road.” And even though the youthful farmers of Bantry Bay and Gore Farms have largely taken over, Chris writes that “We are blessed to still be able to get her asparagus from 30 year old plants (!) and her unbelievable tomatoes.”
His menus are spontaneous and can stand up against any in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. However, he does concede that some dishes, the haddock, his authentic Swiss rösti and the lobster cocktail with the pickled beets and celery remoulade, have to stay. His faithful and vocal clientele have been returning for over a decade and would not be pleased if all their old favorites gave way to newer preparations like the brown butter-seared halibut wrapped in a sea lettuce-bacon crust or the Jerusalem artichoke soup with leek ‘straw’ and a swirl of oil infused with foraged wild garlic.
And for dessert? It could be as simple as a bowl of wild blueberries with cream or as decadent as meringue glacée with Swiss chocolate sauce!
As Chris says… “Life is good! “
Rossmount Country Inn
4599 Route 127,
St.Andrews, New Brunswick E5B 3S7
T: 506 529 3351
Anita Stewart is the Food Laureate for the University of Guelph and founder of Food Day Canada. She holds a graduate degree in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu/University of Adelaide and is a Member of the Order of Canada. She lives in Ontario. (The salmon in the photo was guided by Mark Stewart of East West Charters in Campbell River, B.C.)