To sample some of Newfoundland’s best food requires a one hour scenic drive (take note of the “Beware of Moose Crossing” signs) from St. John’s to the luxurious Doctor’s House Inn and Spa, tucked away in idyllic Greens Harbour, pop. 850. Then, tucked further away, most likely in the the kitchen or the greenhouse, you’ll find Chef Chris Chafe, the crown jewel of my bedazzling visit.
Between his good looks, charisma, strong work ethic and an abundance of talent, Chafe has certainly been on the fast track. First, he was the youngest executive chef ever hired in St. John’s, as well as a popular Top Chef Canada contender. Then, he went on to score a Silver at the Canadian Culinary Championships Gold Medal Plates, before nestling in to the Doctor’s Inn. Chef Chafe is a proud representative of Newfoundland’s rich culinary heritage, albeit with a whimsically, creative approach.
Q: How did you get your start?
A: Once I started as a dishwasher at the age of 16, I was hooked. A few years later, half-way though my bio-chemistry courses at University, I realized I would be much happier cooking than being a doctor, so I quit school and I’ve never looked back since.
Q: Did you then go to culinary school?
A: No. I’ve learned mostly from watching other chefs and also I spend endless hours devouring cookbooks. I have a huge collection of them at home, at least a couple hundred.
Q: When did you first become an executive chef?
A: I was 22 years old. I had been working at Magnun and Steins, in St. John’s, and a couple of people had quit, so I asked the owner to give me a shot, and he went for it. Some people thought I was way too young for the position, but I guess I proved them wrong.
Q: Wasn’t it hard being a kid and taking on so much responsibility?
A: Not really. I’m quite disciplined and have a strong competitive streak from years of playing sports.
Q: Who was your mentor?
A: Luckily, I got to apprentice under Chef Antonio Esperanza at Magnun and Steins. He was the first person to give me a chance, regardless of my age.
Q: Anyone special you’d like to cook with?
A: There are so many great chefs I’d love to work with…Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter and I actually did have the pleasure of meeting Daniel Boulud.
Q: What was it like being on Top Chef?
A: It was pretty exciting, especially when I won the $5,000 prize for a doughnut challenge. (Chafe made a marvelous sounding blue-cheese doughnut with a raspberry port sauce and a pecan-pear-butterscotch topping.) However, it was really hard being away from my family, particularly when I had to miss my son, Declan’s, first birthday.
Q: After cooking at Magnun and Steins and other popular restaurants, what is it like working at The Doctor’s House Inn & Spa?
A: Well, I’ve only been here a few months, but it’s great. I live in St. John’s, so not only do I commute, but I also have to run back and forth to buy ingredients, which is one of the reasons we make everything from scratch here- from homemade bread to cheese and ice cream. Thankfully, we have some on-site greenhouses where we grow much of our own produce.
Also, it’s been a big change from cooking for about 120 people a night to about a tenth of that. However, that’s about to change, since the dining room was previously open only for guests of the inn, but now anyone can eat here.
Q: If you weren’t a chef what would you do?
A: I’d probably be playing some sort of professional ball, either soccer or basketball.
Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
A: Ha! Probably where every chef would like to be– opening my own restaurant.