Patio Perfection at Gabrieau’s Bistro
Tonight, I’m sipping a cocktail on the patio of Gabrieau’s Bistro in Antigonish and sliding the side of my fork into a panko-breaded scallop resting on creamy parsnip and cauliflower puree topped with bacon onion jam. The summer evenings have been cooler lately, but I embrace the breeze against my sundress-clad skin as I crack the spine of a brand new purple notebook and begin to take notes.
As the momma of a toddler, it’s not often that I get a night out. I used to frequently relish quiet evenings sitting solo at a restaurant table, musing about the patrons’ comings and goings, and tonight feels like a sweet remnant of that before-life.
Even luckier am I this evening that I get to spend my time talking food with chef Mark Gabrieau, owner for fourteen years of Gabrieau’s, the go-to spot for fine dining in Antigonish and the surrounding area.
Mark has seen food trends come and go, but the local movement that has escalated and gained momentum around the world in recent years has been a part of Mark’s philosophy since he first started working in kitchens at the age of twelve.
“I’ve always used local…I just thought that’s what you did because it’s the right thing to do.”
For Mark, eating local isn’t just about maintaining his own acreage, abundant with cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, beans, snow peas, asparagus, heirloom carrots, swiss chard, spinach, beets, tomatoes, edible flowers and herbs. It’s also about employing local residents to work in his restaurant, and giving back to the community.
“I’ve always felt this connection to the place,” Mark says of his choice to live and work in the Maritimes, even after training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and doing a pastry and bread baking apprenticeship in Germany.
My next course, a Thai lobster and shrimp risotto sautéed with asparagus and snow peas and simmered in coconut broth and green curry, showcases Mark’s international background juxtaposed with local ingredients. The heat of the curry hits a strong note at the back of my palate while the sweet staccato of snow peas harmonizes on my tastebuds. The meal is hearty, and begs me to eat one bite after another, not hesitating to look up Main Street at the Saturday night traffic.
It practically demands to be eaten with a bright, crisp Nova Scotian white wine, of which there are many on the menu. In fact, Gabrieau’s may have the most extensive local wine list I’ve seen. It’s something that Mark is particularly proud of, and he tells me that once every two years, he closes the restaurant and takes his entire staff to the Valley for an extensive wine tour.
“The whole goal is to promote Nova Scotia wines. [It’s important that] the server believes in Nova Scotia wines and knows how to match them with food,” Mark explains, “we have so many products to be proud of, and we should be educated about them and we should be promoting them.”
To finish my meal, I order a milk chocolate crème brulee. Despite the fact that there are a number of desserts to choose from, including a lemon tart that a foodie friend of mine has raved about on multiple occasions, I never, ever turn down crème brulee. I love that dessert in all its’ forms, and I knew I’d ordered the right thing when my spoon cracked into the lace-thin layer of crisp charred sugar and met with silky chocolate custard highlighted with a touch of Grand Marnier.
After a lifetime in the business, Mark Gabrieau has demonstrated a unique ability to adapt alongside the ever-changing restaurant industry. It’s this kind of dedication to his craft that has earned Mark a spot in the Halifax Gold Medal Plates, one of the most prestigious culinary competitions in Canada, where he will compete with other “masters of cuisine” for the honour of being considered one of the country’s top chefs.
For good measure, I ask to have another dessert packed up to bring home to my husband, who is patiently caring for our toddler while I luxuriate over crème brulee. It’s only fair to reward that sort of thing with chocolate mousse and whipping cream, right?
The late summer night has cooled to the point where even the warm sugar topping on my dessert can’t take the chill away. My night sans kiddo, spent talking food and indulging in Mark’s outstanding culinary creations, is over. I close my notebook, grab my extra dessert, and head home.