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Eating la vida loca 

Craig Flinn is one of Halifax’s most renowned chefs, and now he's an author.Liz Feltham brings home his Chives-tested delicacies. photo Scott Munn

You don’t have to look far to find your favourite foodie a perfect gift this holiday; Craig Flinn’s first cookbook, Fresh & Local: Straight from Canadian farms to your table has hit the stands just in time.

It’s a fitting title, because fresh and local is the hottest culinary thing going, spawning its own lexicon with words and phrases like “locavore” and “The 100 Mile Diet.” And although the chef-proprietor of Chives Canadian Bistro on Barrington has become synonymous with fresh and local, he insists, “I’m not doing anything revolutionary here, it’s the way cooking in restaurants always was. Think of a restaurant in a small village in France---there was no 1-800 number to call to have food delivered; you cooked with what was available. This is not a fad or trend, we’ve just been diverted for a couple of decades.”

And don’t pigeonhole this into a book just about Nova Scotian food. Flinn emphasizes the approach to be applicable to wherever you call home. “The big thing is not to stick to the recipe. If you can’t find a particular fish, for example, use whatever you have, as long as it’s fresh.”

In fact, it doesn’t necessarily have to be local. When asked if he uses things that aren’t, he laughs. “Definitively, yes. I can’t imagine a world without lemons, or olive oil---shoot me!” Flinn says it’s about making the best decisions that you possibly can. “Of course you support the local economy first. If someone is growing fantastic carrots right here, why buy ones from California or South America? It’s about making responsible, informed choices.”

Not everything is clear-cut with Flinn. He struggles with using Atlantic salmon, for example. “I just haven’t figured it out yet,” he says. “I don’t know enough, from a scientific point of view. It’s important to use sustainable seafood, and I’m just not convinced yet about farmed salmon.”

Since opening Chives in 2001, Flinn has always focused on fresh and local. So why a book now? “The timing was right,” he says, “For both me and the publisher. Lots of people identify my food with local sourcing.” That’s because in addition to being a chef, Flinn is a restaurateur and business owner. “I can’t wait for the people to come to me, I have to bring the restaurant to the people!” He admits this is fairly easy right now. “There’s a strong desire in the media for chefs... usually comes to me.”

Not that he’s waiting for this book to sell itself---he’s had a string of personal appearances and book signings. Between that and sourcing ingredients for Chives menus, “you’re probably wondering if I’m ever in the kitchen,” he says, laughing. Offering a glimpse into his personal life, he says, “Right now, I’m not in a relationship so I have all the time” to promote the book and restaurant. “My biggest goal is to have a family and one day, be in the Valley.”

That’s as far from Halifax as this chef is going. He’s not using the city as a springboard for bigger and better things down the road, but plans on staying here. He loves the city, the clientele and the atmosphere. “I adore Halifax---everything I need is here,” he says.

The first time he held a copy of the finished book in hand, he felt “a strong feeling of accomplishment. Whatever happens to the restaurant, there’ll always be this book.”

I note that many of his recipes have a decidedly European bent, with classic French and Italian dishes. So what exactly is his idea of “Canadian cuisine?” It’s obviously something he’s given a great deal of thought to.

“In a country only 150 years old, with ethnic groups from all over the world, of course there will be regional differences and global influences. Our food is a collage of many, many cuisines; but there are particular ingredients that are quintessentially Canadian---maple syrup, for one.”

When asked to name his favourite recipe, it doesn’t take him long to name the Orchard Oaks Riesling-poached fruit, with star anise crabapple sorbet, for two reasons: “It epitomizes what I want to do, which is produce my own food for the restaurant,” and more sentimentally, “it represents my connection to my family.” (His father began operating his Annapolis Valley hobby farm, Orchard Oaks, in 2005.)

From a practical aspect, the book itself is well laid out with easy-to-follow recipes (see sidebar for example) and plenty of colour pictures. The five dishes I prepared ranged from the somewhat complex crispy duck confit to the simple, rustic hodge-podge. All were successful and delicious, and it’s no surprise Flinn had a friend test the recipes at home.

“When we tested these, they were tested in a home kitchen, using rudimentary utensils and home equipment,” he says.

Next for the busy chef is a collection of bistro recipes gathered while on a cross-country culinary journey. But for that, we’ll have to wait for next Christmas.

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Vol 27, No 13
August 22, 2019

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