• Welcome

    Karl is an award winning food writer and restaurant critic for the St. John's daily, The Telegram. His Dining Out column is one of The Weekend Telegram's most popular features. Karl Wells is also host/producer of the very popular Rogers TV show, One Chef One Critic and a restaurant panelist with enRoute magazine. Karl has written for Harry Magazine, enRoute, Newfoundland Quarterly and other publications. He is a senior judge with Gold Medal Plates and a Canadian Culinary Championship judge.

Frequently asked questions

The restaurant critic
My avocation as a restaurant critic generates more interest from my audience than anything else I do. It’s natural I suppose. The idea of dining in different restaurants every week and telling others about it in print must seem curious to many. Almost every other day I’m answering questions on Facebook, Twitter, email or in person about my restaurant criticisms or about being a restaurant reviewer. I thought it might be useful to answer many of the FAQs, or frequently asked questions, in this column.

1. What qualifications are needed to be a restaurant critic?
Being able to write well and deliver a column or review on deadline is absolutely the most important qualification. Also, you must enjoy food and dining out, otherwise what you write won’t be very interesting. Having some knowledge about food, various cuisines and cooking is also important. But being a chef is not required, any more than being a movie director is required to be a film critic. Very few restaurant critics are chefs.

2. Should a food critic be anonymous?
Frankly, it is impossible for a restaurant critic to be anonymous today. Even when a critic tries his or her best to be anonymous, as with former “Globe and Mail” critic, Joanne Kates, a photo always ends up on the internet. Most Toronto chefs and restaurateurs made it their business to know Kates’s face long before she was outed online. (Former Toronto chef, Greg Couillard, once told me he even knew what her frequent dining companion husband looked like.) The best you can do is to make sure the restaurant doesn’t know you’re coming. I frequently walk in without a reservation. If I make a reservation, someone makes the call for me, giving a different name. You must also be utterly vigilant in observing differences (if any) between the way you are being treated compared with how other diners are being treated, and be prepared to use that information in creating a balanced review.

3. Does The Telegram pay for your meals?
No. I pay for my meals and I am not reimbursed. I am paid for the review itself. As a result I feel totally unencumbered and free to write exactly what I want to write about my experiences. Being a restaurant reviewer is fun if you love restaurants and like to write. I also hoped, when I began this column (over ten years ago), that I might be able to make a positive difference in the local dining scene.

4. Do restaurants ever comp your meal?
No, because I won’t allow it. It’s important to have independence when you’re writing critically about a restaurant. Occasionally restaurateurs try to cover the cost of my meal but I find a way of paying, even if I have to give the server a tip covering the cost of the entire meal. Once or twice restaurants sent me gift certificates but I sent them right back. On very rare occasions I accept a media pass to food and wine events on behalf of The Telegram or Rogers TV, but not from restaurants.

5. Who dines with you when you review?
Mostly friends and relatives. Dining for a review is less fun for my companions than people might think. I will insist that we all order something different, even when everyone wants that delicious sounding “special”. I also ask guests to give me their take on what they’re eating. They quickly realize that it’s all about the review and that I’m working.

6. Who decides which restaurants get reviewed?
That’s solely my decision. I try to mix things up so that I’m not reviewing similar restaurants back-to-back. Unless a restaurant has changed dramatically (i.e. hired a new chef, overhauled the menu or made major renovations) I won’t review it again for at least two years. Some reviewers are adamant about not reviewing chain restaurants. I review everything because, let’s face it, chains are popular and people want to hear about them.

7. How can you give the same number of stars to a fine dining restaurant and a cheap family restaurant?
Easily. The star system merely tells you whether I think a restaurant (in whatever category) is fair, good, excellent, et cetera. That’s all. For example, I wouldn’t compare Joe’s fish and chip restaurant to Raymonds. But, compared with other fish and chip restaurants, Joe’s might be worth four stars.

8. Have you ever had chefs or restaurants get really upset with you?
Several times, but it’s to be expected. Restaurateurs and chefs want to read positive things about their restaurants. That’s human nature and the vast majority of chefs and restaurateurs work very, very hard to make everything as good as it can possibly be. Then, to be honest, you have some who just don’t get what I do. They believe my role is to be a cheer leader for restaurants. Well, sorry, that’s not restaurant criticism. My job is to write for my readers, period. And to let them know whether a restaurant is worth visiting, how much it will cost, and what I think is good about the restaurant or not so good about it.

9. What’s the best restaurant in St. John’s?
I usually ask people to tell me what kind of food they like and what kind of dining experience they’re after. Then I’ll suggest three or four different places that might suit. It is really up to the individual and his or her likes and dislikes. I have friends who dislike formal dining intensely. They prefer casual, funky places with uncomplicated food and no white cloths. Others absolutely live for the old world charm of white table dining. And for some it’s what they are in the mood for on a particular night.

10. Are your friends afraid to cook for you?
I think some may be, but all my friends are fabulous cooks. A few tell me, jokingly, that they fear I will critique their food. I reassure them that I only review restaurants. Thankfully, I still receive lots of dinner invitations. Besides, it’s more about spending time with friends. There’s nothing better than being invited into a friend’s home for something to eat, maybe a glass of wine, and the enjoyment of one another’s company. Especially at this time of the year.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Contact him through his website,
www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells

Lunch with Dr. Susan Furlong

Dr. Susan Furlong

Dr. Susan Furlong

September is Arthritis Month. I know this because the other day I had lunch with Doctor Susan Furlong. She’s the chairperson of the Newfoundland and Labrador Divisional Advisory Board of the Arthritis Society. We dined at Oppidan in the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland.

Over lunch I learned a lot about arthritis, which is a good thing because I have it. So does Doctor Furlong. In fact, according to the Arthritis Society’s website (www.arthritis.ca), one in six Canadians is affected by arthritis.

We began with a soup course, hers French onion, mine vegetable. The vegetable soup was brimming with root vegetables and celery in a well-developed, flavourful broth. It had a high gloss finish. Although my soup was delicious I was a little jealous of the Doctor. Her French onion boasted plenty of beautifully sweet caramelized onions in dark, beefy broth made even sweeter by the addition of a soupçon of sherry.

As we enjoyed our soup I wondered how much of a role food and nutrition play in aggravating or alleviating the symptoms of arthritis. (The soup was having no ill effects.) The answer, Furlong informed me, depends on the type of arthritis you have. (There are more than 100 kinds.) With inflammatory arthritis like gout, eating certain kinds of food can trigger an attack of the painful disease.

Shellfish
If you suffer from gout it’s best to cut back on shellfish such as lobster, crab and scallops. Rich food is a trigger too, including red meat. If you’re a tea drinker, like me, it’s wise to limit your daily intake to maybe one or two cups. Apparently the tannins in tea are believed to exacerbate gout.

Rheumatoid arthritis is another type of inflammatory arthritis. This is the type that also affects children. In Canada, arthritis specialists (rheumatologists) have taken to calling it “the arthritis of childhood” or “idiopathic juvenile arthritis”. Doctor Furlong told me she has seen children with arthritis.

“If you ever have the blessing of meeting some of these young people you’ll see that their whole outlook is inspirational. Their entire existence revolves around where they are in their cycle of joint pain. Getting diagnosed and effectively treated can be a long process. Sometimes three years for adults but for children the wheels do move a little more quickly.”

The most common type of arthritis is the also painful non-inflammatory osteoarthritis. It’s usually caused by simple wear and tear on the joints over time. That’s why it usually affects people as they get older. Although there can be a family predilection with osteoarthritis, genetic predilection is much more common in rheumatoid arthritis. “It’s very unusual,” said Furlong, “to see patients with rheumatoid arthritis that have no family history of it.”

Having been informed of foods that trigger arthritis pain I asked Furlong about ones that might soothe it.

“Omega-3 to some degree. Some people say it helps relieve joint pain. A couple of the spices like turmeric (a natural anti-inflammatory substance) and ginger. Garlic is beneficial as well. The general literature suggests that any healthy diet, such as Canada’s Food Guide or any diet that is well-rounded is good for you. But in terms of a particular food making you feel better if you’re having a bad day. I don’t think so.”

Salmon
My main course arrived, pan seared Atlantic salmon containing Omega-3. A good choice in retrospect. The salmon was excellent: moist, tender and delicately seasoned to tease the palate. A selection of sautéed vegetables, including half a tomato augmented the plate.

Doctor Furlong couldn’t resist the pan-fried cod, a handsome, golden brown piece of fillet served with carrot, asparagus, red pepper and creamed potato. She didn’t need to tell me it tasted wonderful. I could tell from looking at it that it was perfectly cooked.

Getting back to the subject of food and arthritis, Susan Furlong made no bones about her scepticism regarding the many books being published claiming to offer relief from arthritis through an “anti-inflammation diet” or “eating to eliminate arthritis”.

“It’s a big money making business but at this point the science is not really there. There haven’t been a lot of double-blind, placebo controlled studies done on it. What I have to say to my patients is more about calories because there is a link between obesity and arthritis for sure.”

Being a wine drinker I asked if wine or other alcoholic beverages might make inflammation worse. Furlong smiled and said, “It depends on the dose.” What she meant was that a couple of glasses might help, especially in terms of cardiovascular protection but going beyond that would be counterproductive.

Fruit
With the image of those bright bananas, apples and other fruits seen on Canada’s Food Guide (available at www.hc-sc.gc.ca) in my head, as well as the good doctor’s words about the guide’s usefulness, I decided to order Oppidan’s fresh fruit dessert instead of something with a higher calorie count.

I received a bowl containing a flowerlike composition of fruits (melon, pineapple, strawberries, and blueberries) with a spoonful of Greek yogurt at its core. As well as being one of the most attractive looking fruit salads I’ve had, it tasted as only fruit at the peak of ripeness can taste. Very, very good.

After my learning lunch I thanked Doctor Furlong and told her I would try to put into practise what she had told me. You may want to as well. If you’d like to receive more information about arthritis or related assistance please contact the Arthritis Society NL at 709-579-8190 or toll free at 1-800-321-1433. General email inquiries may also be made to: info@nl.arthritis.ca.

The website www.arthritis.ca also contains a wealth of informative videos and literature about arthritis.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Contact him through his website,
www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells

Dining aboard the ice breaker, Terry Fox

Coast Guard cooks prepare for Arctic tour

Canadian Coast Guard's Terry Fox

Canadian Coast Guard’s Terry Fox



When most people decide to make a career in the Canadian Coast Guard, they choose jobs like engineer, navigator, technician or communications officer. Then there are those who go in a completely different direction. All they want to do is get on the high seas and cook.

That’s what 35-year-old St. John’s native Laurie Goodyear wanted. Nine years ago, after finishing the Marine Cooking Program at College of the North Atlantic, she joined the Canadian Coast Guard and shipped out on its heavy ice breaker, Henry Larsen. Now she’s well versed in the ways of the Coast Guard, including cooking for more than 20 crew members in every kind of sea weather.

Laurie Goodyear is currently chief cook on the Coast Guard’s heavy ice breaker, Terry Fox. She fed me lunch aboard the Terry Fox recently, just before the ship left St. John’s (July 7th) to operate in the Canadian Arctic for four months. The Terry Fox’s mission is to provide ice escorts for commercial ships and to deliver cargo to northern communities such as Kugluktuk and Nanisivik.

Six vessels
Every year six Canadian Coast Guard vessels perform duties in the Arctic. The ships are from different regions but three come from ours: CCGS Terry Fox, CCGS Henry Larsen, and CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent.

Cooks Goodyear (L) and Rumboldt

Cooks Goodyear (L) and Rumboldt


The Canadian Coast Guard employs 48 cooks in its Newfoundland and Labrador operations in a layday system. That means cooks work for six weeks, followed by six weeks of leave. At any given time there are 24 cooks on duty on Coast Guard vessels assigned to this province. On large vessels like the Terry Fox, galley workers include a chief cook, second cook and steward. The steward helps with prepping food and washing dishes.

Delores Rumboldt is the second cook aboard the Terry Fox. Rumboldt hails from Port aux Choix on the Great Northern Peninsula. She learned her trade through the commercial cooking program at the College of the North Atlantic in Stephenville. She celebrates her third year with the Coast Guard this July 27th.

Planning
Preparing the Terry Fox’s galley for four months in the Arctic requires detailed planning on the part of the chief cook, logistics officer and storekeeper. A general list is kept of standard provisions – the foodstuffs and galley supplies normally carried by the Terry Fox on a tour of duty. That list forms the bulk of what will be ordered and loaded on board the ship through a hatch adjacent the galley and stores area.

Laurie Goodyear told me the list is augmented, depending on the length of the tour of duty, and on the likes and wishes of the crew working that particular trip. For example, heading into the Arctic she requested eight cases of French’s tinned fried onions. Apparently, she made a recipe for crunchy coated baked chicken (using the French’s product) on a previous trip and it went down very well with the crew.

I wondered how much chicken would be needed for the voyage. Here’s what Goodyear said.
“Well, with chicken breasts alone we have about 50 or 60 cases. Then we’ve got whole chickens, chicken legs, chicken thighs, chicken drums and it’s all got to be ordered in bulk because we prepare three meals a day and they’ve got a first and second choice every day. So we go through a lot of chicken”.

Perishables
Although a quantity of fresh fruit and other perishables is taken aboard in St. John’s, for much of the trip the crew will be without fresh produce. Second cook, Delores Rumboldt, told me they can only take on a small amount of fresh fruit, and some vegetables because such items will spoil quickly. “Berries and bananas don’t hold up well,” she said. “And we have to be careful with broccoli and lettuce.”

Fresh produce may be in limited supply but galley hands do have other ways of creating the occasional culinary bright spot. In addition to Delores Rumboldt’s lemon meringue pies and chocolate chip cheesecakes, there are her famous “themed” birthday cakes. Living in close quarters with others gives galley staff an opportunity to get to know each member of the ship’s crew.

Rumboldt makes it a point to bake a cake for each crew member who celebrates a birthday during a tour of duty. She finds out something about them (hobbies, job, et cetera) and then creates a cake with that theme. Last trip she made a birthday cake for one of the ship’s electricians. It was a vanilla cake decorated with several (brand new) electrical connectors.

Rumboldt at the stove

Rumboldt at the stove


Storms?
As I watched Delores Rumboldt make a spinach omelette, the second meal choice when I visited, I wondered what it would be like trying to accomplish the task, or any cooking, while the Terry Fox was caught in the teeth of a vicious North Atlantic storm. Laurie Goodyear offered this.

“We have to be prepared for it. We can’t have the deep fryer on. We have bars that go across the stove that secure the pots so that they don’t move back and forth. We really have to be careful about ourselves more than anything.”

Because many of the Terry Fox crew do watches, some were literally waking up or about to go to bed when I was aboard. That’s why a lighter meal choice (spinach omelette) was available that could either be breakfast, or a snack before bedtime. For me it was dinner time so I went with the duck breast in orange sauce option.

Arranged around a couple of nicely plump duck breasts were carrots, a mixture of wild and long grain rice, cauliflower and broccoli. It was a heavy meal but I enjoyed it. The duck, with its rich, sweet sauce reminded me of what Delores Rumboldt said when I asked if anyone ever complained about the food.
“No,” she said. But then added, “Only sometimes they complain that our food is making them fat.”

Rumboldt's famous cheesecake

Rumboldt’s famous cheesecake


A small price to pay, I think, for daily meals of well-prepared comfort food. Especially when you’re thousands of miles from home, for weeks on end.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Contact him through his website,
www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells