For Craig Flinn, cooking locally and seasonally isn’t a trend. “It’s the way food is and always has been,” he says. Flinn changes the menu at Chives to reflect seasons that last only five or six weeks. June’s strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus will give way to July’s carrots, turnips and beets, and come September there will be summer berries, squash, and a bit of everything on the menu.
When he isn’t in the kitchen, Flinn, 37, is often in the Annapolis Valley sourcing ingredients. “I get very excited about finding a new farm or some great ingredient or finding a new cheese,” he says. He picks up meat from a producer in Canning, fruit from his parents’ orchard in Port Williams and vegetables from his own garden. He also relies on local greenhouses and produce from Ted Hutton at the farmers’ market. Specials like the coastal catch are a good bet. Flinn says he waits for calls from local fishermen, saying things like, “I landed a forty pound halibut, do you want it?”
Flinn believes in supporting local producers, but he says he isn’t religious about it: “I’m not going to put anyone out of work by buying lemons from Pete’s Frootique,” he says, “but would I go buy an apple from California in peak apple season? No way.” Nor would he do without olive oil (“the best ingredient in the world”).
Growing up, Flinn watched his mother and uncle cook, but he didn’t consider becoming a professional chef until his mid-twenties. During an MA in geography he realized that he didn’t want to be in front of a computer all the time; he wanted to do something more creative. His brother suggested he become a chef.
After attending the Culinary Institute of Canada, Flinn worked at the Seehotel Waldstatterhof in Switzerland, the Savoy in London, and the Village Club of Sands Point on Long Island before returning to Halifax to open up Chives Canadian Bistro in 2001 with his friend and fellow chef Darren Lewis.
Six and a half years later, Flinn is still passionate about cooking local food. He gives credit to Lewis, sous-chef Kyle Cruickshank and the rest of the team at Chives for making Chives for the restaurant’s success. “You get me getting slammed on a Saturday night on the line when there’s just a sea of white tickets in front of me and I’m singing," he says. "You almost wish that you were a fly on the wall so you could see the reactionsin the dining room."
To add to his already full schedule, Flinn recently opened Ciboulette Cafe (Chives, en Francais) with former Chives apprentice Brady Muller, and is publishing his first cookbook on September 1st. Fresh and Local will feature the food from Chives expanded to a more Canadian perspective. Flinn, with a few other local food stars, has been invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard house dinner in New York, but he says there is no need to call him a chef, "I'm very content with being called a kick ass cook."
1st Runner Up: Mark Griffin, Coastal Cafe, 2713 Robie Street, 405-40222nd Runner Up: Ted Grant, Gio, 1725 Market Street, 425-1987