Q&A with Chris Hounsell, Executive Chef, Fish Bowl Restaurant & Bar, St. John’s, N.L.

 

Education:  Graduate of George Brown College, Toronto, Ontario (1997)
Career Path: Dinah’s Cupboard Catering, Bistro 990, Catering For You
Years of Experience as a Chef: 15 happy, sweaty years

What are your earliest memories of cooking?
Watching my mother in the kitchen of our family home in Corner Brook, N.L. The kitchen is the heart of the home in Newfoundland and my mother is the heart of our family. Sunday dinner and freshly baked bread — I’ll carry those memories with me forever.

Why do you think you were drawn to a culinary career?

I knew I wanted to create, to express myself somehow. I was never quite sure how to do it until I stood with knife in hand and realized that I could turn a world of beautifully fresh, diverse ingredients into something delicious, satisfying and unique.

How would you describe your restaurant?
Our shop is fun, creative and definitely focused on showcasing the amazing natural products that are on our doorstep here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We emphasize fresh fish and seafood and are proud to share our unique food culture with guests from all over the world.

If you knew you were eating your last meal, what would you have?
This is kind of funny after my fresh fish and seafood plug, but I can’t lie. Put a juicy, well-aged ribeye in front of me and I’m in heaven.


What is your philosophy about food?

It’s been said before: Keep it simple. Keep it fresh and clean and honour the character of the ingredients you use to create each dish.

Where do you go to dine out?
Right now I’m having the best time eating at the stunningly good restaurants here in St. John’s. There is a culinary renaissance happening here that is honestly mind-blowing in terms of scope and significance. In fact, “renaissance” is the wrong word … it’s a revolution. It’s happening right here, right now.

What is your favourite ingredient?
My French culinary roots are whispering to me … garlic. Next question!

Who were your biggest influences or inspirations for becoming a chef?
My Newfoundland roots, my mother, my grandmother and my angsty, burning need to express myself!

If you knew you were going to be exiled to a desert island, what three ingredients or food items would take with you?
I’d need a whole cow, some good French cheese and wine. Wine is necessary. You can’t take it away from me!

What do you think is the most overrated food trend right now?

I don’t judge. People like what they like. Food is a passion, an element of daily life that transcends trend and popularity. Eat what you love and love what you eat.

What do you think is the most underrated food trend?

I feel like the most underrated food trend is just not “going with it.” It’s not about professionals in restaurants telling people what is or isn’t good, it’s about experimenting and creating in your own environment. I feel like this is part of a global revolution that is alive and happening.

Is there any type of cuisine that you would like to experiment with?
The Pan-Asian culinary scene, both traditional and nouveau, is a perennial fascination of mine.

What are the essential ingredients for success in the foodservice industry today?
Number one is passion. Please, please, believe in what you do. Chefs, servers, sommeliers, owners, dishwashers – nobody succeeds in the hot, loud, sweaty belly of the beast without believing.

Which cooking technique or tool is a favourite of yours right now, and why?

I’m getting back to my roots. I’m rediscovering the simple beauty of home, family and tradition and it’s definitely influencing how I look at ingredients and what they turn into.

What is your favourite food combination right now?
It’s never one thing. It’s whatever pleases me, confuses me, makes me think.

Do you have any culinary guilty pleasures?

There is a certain faux-fromage product that I occasionally enjoy slathered over homemade bread. We shall speak no more of it.

What are some of the most interesting or unique challenges of being a restaurateur and chef?
Right now, some of the challenges are related to being here in St. John’s. I’m adjusting to not having my cheese guy, my meat guy, my veg guy … but it’s also a learning experience and an invaluable opportunity to embrace and support the absolutely fantastic local producers and purveyors of food products here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

What is it like for you to be a part of the vibrant St. John’s culinary scene and how do you see it developing over the next few years?
I honestly feel completely honoured to be a part of it. My home, this weather-beaten rock in the North Atlantic, is a culinary lodestar right now. There is no end to the growth and opportunity I’m seeing here. It’s thrilling and satisfying and every day brings a new discovery.

What advice would you have for aspiring new chefs as they enter the industry?
Be open. Never stop growing. Never stop learning. Speak with your own culinary voice. Respect tradition but also embrace change.

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