• 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 panellist with enRoute magazine. Karl has written for enRoute, Cuisine Canada Blog, Newfoundland Quarterly and other publications. He is a senior judge with Gold Medal Plates and a Canadian Culinary Championship judge.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate takes St. John’s by storm

Derrick Costello, local Rocky Mountain Chocolate owner

Derrick Costello, local Rocky Mountain Chocolate owner



Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Churchill Square

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Churchill Square

23 Rowan St.
Churchill Square
St. John’s
Ph. (709) 754-3512

When 40-year-old Corner Brook native, Derrick Costello, opened the door to his new Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store in Churchill Square he had planned on a soft or low-key first week. Maybe he had forgotten it was Father’s Day Weekend, or perhaps he had vastly underestimated the popularity of the well-established North American chocolate brand in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I had an inkling of the fervor with which Rocky Mountain Chocolate would be received by Newfoundlanders when I tweeted weeks ago that a store would be opening in St. John’s. The reaction to my tweet was immediate and entirely positive. Most of the responses were of the “Can’t wait!” or “Love that chocolate!” variety. Recently someone tweeted, “Well, there goes next week’s entire pay cheque!”
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No doubt these fans will be thrilled to learn that a second and third Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store is planned for Commonwealth Avenue, Mount Pearl, and, one day, on Water Street in St. John’s.

Hectic
Derrick Costello said, “It was just crazy.” He told me that his staff were completely overwhelmed by the number of customers they served during opening week. Things became so hectic he had to hire more employees. Rocky Mountain chocolatier, David Tjart, who arrived from Vancouver to help train staff, was obliged to pitch in and make more chocolate products to keep up with the demand. The St. John’s opening is now, officially, the biggest, most successful opening of any Rocky Mountain Factory store in Canada.

The dream of opening a Rocky Mountain Chocolate store in St. John’s began quite a while ago for Derrick Costello, who describes himself as “a born entrepreneur.” He opened his first business, a camera shop, in Stephenville in 1997 at the age of 23. About a dozen years later he created Newfoundland Camera Imaging in Churchill Square.

Just over three years ago he was travelling and met a Rocky Mountain Chocolate executive. Costello was already a fan of Rocky Mountain products. They had a discussion about there not being a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store in St. John’s, or anywhere else in Newfoundland for that matter. That’s when Costello decided to take the plunge and buy a franchise.

Derrick Costello checks the stock at his Rocky Mountain Chocolate store in Churchill Square

Derrick Costello checks the stock at his Rocky Mountain Chocolate store in Churchill Square


Own hands
Since then he has, with his own hands and some help from friends, developed the Rocky Mountain space in the Churchill Square building, which he owns (Newfoundland Camera Imaging is next door) and he has purchased a Mount Pearl site, and a building on Water Street. The Mount Pearl location will be the next Rocky Mountain to be constructed. When the time is right, his Water Street building will likely be renovated and transformed into a flagship downtown Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

Rocky Mountain’s success is partly due to the tremendous variety of quality dark and milk chocolate and confectionary items they offer. Costello claims that very soon his store will actually be making in-house almost 98 percent of their own products.

He himself is a hands-on chocolatier, having received intensive training at Rocky Mountain Canada headquarters in Vancouver, as well as working at one of the company’s large Vancouver outlets.

Rum raisin ice cream at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

Rum raisin ice cream at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory


Apart from a handful of items that will be shipped in, such as Rocky Mountain ice creams, Costello and his 12 permanent chocolatiers will be making everything from sea foams and Rocky Pop popcorn to chocolate caramel apples (in two sizes) and every possible kind of chocolate – with or without sugar.

I was wowed by some dark chocolate with nuts and enjoyed a sugarless chocolate peanut butter cup. But, I was absolutely ecstatic (as well as nostalgic) over their superb rum raisin gelato, or ice cream. You simply can’t buy it anywhere else these days. By the way, Rocky Mountain produces 150 flavours of ice cream. Costello had a difficult time deciding which ones to carry here because they all sounded so good.
Rocky Mountain candy apples
Birthdays
Parents may like to know that Derrick Costello plans to offer something at his store that very few Rocky Mountain stores in North America offer. Children’s birthday parties. He has developed a space in the building where kids can gather, wear a chef’s hat and learn how to be a chocolatier. They’ll be shown how to dip apples and marshmallows in chocolate and how to make S’mores. What kid wouldn’t want to be Willy Wonka?

From what I’ve seen, I think this perpetually smiling Newfoundlander named Derrick Costello is having the time of his life in his chocolate factory. He told me that learning to be a chocolatier was the best experience he’s had in his 20 years in business. He loves seeing people walk into the store and suddenly develop a broad grin. (His store does feel happy, bright and energetic.)
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I’ll finish with this quote from Costello that I believe speaks to this guy being more than someone who just wants to make a buck – not that there’s anything wrong with a businessman wanting to make a buck.

“I love Churchill Square,” he said. “It’s a neighbourhood gathering place. I’d like to see a Santa Claus out there at Christmas ringing a bell as snowflakes fall. You know, stuff we remember from childhood. I’ve been looking for things to put here that would evoke that kind of feeling. Every neighbourhood needs that kind of square, where you can go for a walk and buy your fresh vegetables, and get an ice cream. I really wanted to bring that local feeling back. And what better way to get to somebody’s heart than with chocolate?”

Well, I’d say it’s a start.

Gold Medal Plates St. John’s and the Emblem of Distinction

EMBLEM

In days to come as you go for a stroll around St. John’s (especially in the Water and Duckworth Street area) keep an eye out for a colourful emblem. It will be prominently and proudly displayed in the window of certain restaurants.

It’s called, the Gold Medal Plates “Emblem of Distinction”. When you see this emblem displayed by a St. John’s or Newfoundland restaurant, you can be confident that it is an excellent restaurant with a talented chef, and that chef and restaurant have met the highest culinary standards in the nation.

It also means that the chef, a member of our local St. John’s (or other Newfoundland community) was specifically chosen by a group of Gold Medal Plates culinary judges (including yours truly and National Head Judge, James Chatto) to compete in the Gold Medal Plates St. John’s culinary competition, the winner of which travels to the national competition, the Canadian Culinary Championships. Hence the words on the emblem, “The Road to the Canadian Culinary Championships – Gold Medal Plates.”

Major cities

Gold Medal Plates events take place each fall in eleven major Canadian cities from St. John’s to Victoria, BC. Proceeds from Gold Medal Plates events are used to support the Canadian Olympic Foundation and our Canadian Olympians. Without the participation of chefs like our talented local culinarians, Gold Medal Plates would not exist. Gold Medal Plates depends on the enormous contribution of time, talent and resources from our chefs and restaurants across Canada.

The Gold Medal Plates Emblem of Distinction therefore has a twofold purpose. It acknowledges a chef’s participation in this significant national program in support of Olympians, and also endorses their restaurant as a quality dining establishment. As James Chatto has stated, “…those who enter their establishments are treated to an exceptional dining experience.”

This November 13th, 2014, Gold Medal Plates St. John’s welcomes eight of St. John’s best and brightest chefs. A few are previous gold medal winners and several are previous silver or bronze medallists. Please take a few minutes and read what follows about them and their 2014 competition dishes.

Chef Gregory Bersinski

Chef Gregory Bersinski

Chef Gregory Bersinski
Black Sea Restaurant and Bar
193 Water St., St. John’s
Gregory Bersinski returns as a Gold Medal Plates competitor after an absence of four years. He’s a veteran of the St. John’s culinary scene having made his name as a star chef at Bianca’s during its formative years. Bersinski’s current passion is creating comforting dishes reminiscent of those he enjoyed as a young man in his native Sofia, Bulgaria.
Dish: Pan seared veal sweetbreads with fresh fava bean cassoulet
Beverage: Red Paw Vineyard 2010 Pinot Noir, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery, Niagara

Chef Chris Chafe

Chef Chris Chafe

Chef Chris Chafe
The Doctor’s House Inn and Spa
Old Hopeall Rd., Green’s Harbour

Chris Chafe is a past Gold Medal Plates silver medallist, where he was one of the youngest competitors. He’s gained considerable experience since then, leading to a refinement in his thoughtful, honest cuisine.
Dish: Duck charcuterie (liver pâté, leg rillettes, prosciutto, sausage) with local Trinity Bay berries and apples from the Doctor’s House gardens
Beverage: 2012 Pinot Noir, Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan

Chef Shaun Hussey

Chef Shaun Hussey

Chef Shaun Hussey
Chinched Bistro
7 Queen St., St. John’s

As a previous Gold Medal Plates gold medallist and Canadian Culinary Championships competitor, Shaun Hussey brings formidable knowledge and experience to the St. John’s competition. Once again he will present a dish highlighting pork (his favourite ingredient) along with other local fare.
Dish: “An Unlikely Tasting of Suckling Pig”: House Smoked Bacon Wrapped Boudin Blanc Stuffed Trotter, Corned & Smoked Tongue, Crispy Truffled Ear Fries, Parsnips, Marshberries, Apricot & Orange, Pork Reduction
Beverage: 2011 Merlot “La Droite”, Rollingdale Winery, West Kelowna

Chef Ivan Kyutukchiev

Chef Ivan Kyutukchiev

Chef Ivan Kyutukchiev
Bacalao
65 Lemarchant Rd., St. John’s

Ivan Kyutukchiev holds the distinction of being the first Gold Medal Plates St. John’s Champion. He won the gold plate in 2009, beating a field of the city’s most talented and skilled chefs. He was also a key member of the Bacalao team when Mike Barsky won the competition in 2011.
Dish: Smoked pork cheek, pig’s liver crème caramel, porridge of chestnuts, apple, celery root, boudin, buckwheat, golden raisins, chicharron, white port and cider pork jus
Beverage: 2013 Gewurztraminer Riesling, Pelee Island Winery, Pelee Island

Chef David Langmead

Chef David Langmead

Chef David Langmead
Oliver’s Restaurant
160 Water St., St. John’s

What David Langmead may lack in Gold Medal Plates experience is made up by his obvious enthusiasm for the event. A first time competitor, having recently assumed the mantle of Executive Chef at Oliver’s, Langmead’s the third Oliver’s chef to take part in a GMP competition.
Dish: Pulled rabbit, lentil and bean cassoulet topped with shaved duck breast, partridgeberry gastrique, butternut squash, corn tuile
Beverage: Quidi Vidi Honey Brown Ale

Chef Roary MacPherson

Chef Roary MacPherson

Chef Roary MacPherson
Oppidan
115 Cavendish Square, St. John’s

Roary MacPherson is a veteran Gold Medal Plates St. John’s competitor. He’s participated in every event since 2009 and has received a GMP bronze medal. He is renowned as a mentor chef and champion of local farmers, fishermen, producers and their products.
Dish: “Goose and Chips” (goose roulade rolled in smoked pork belly, pommes pont-neuf with seabuckthorn ketchup)) apple and parsnip purée, confit of giblets and leg with root vegetables
Beverage: Farm Reserve 2012 Riesling, Lang Vineyards, Naramata Bench, Okanagan

Chef Mark McCrowe

Chef Mark McCrowe

Chef Mark McCrowe
Aqua
310 Water St., St. John’s

Mark McCrowe is a Gold Medal Plates St. John’s silver and bronze medallist. Like MacPherson, he has competed in every GMP event. These days McCrowe prefers to work with local ingredients as often as possible. That preference is reflected in this year’s dish.
Dish: “Moose and Juice” (charcoal grilled loin with chanterelle dust, ragout of shank and fatback) Nan’s toast, roasted roots, moose jus with Labrador tea, pickled berries and crispy moss
Beverage: 2013 Zweigelt, Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard, Prince Edward County

Chef Ken Pittman

Chef Ken Pittman



Chef Ken Pittman
One 11 Chophouse
Murray Premises, St. John’s

Ken Pittman is another first time Gold Medal Plates participant but no stranger to culinary competition. He has vast experience working with many styles of cuisine and ingredients. These days he’s bringing out the best in cuts of beef at the high-end steak house, One 11 Chophouse.
Dish: Braised hanger steak, chanterelle and sunflower seed risotto, onion ring, Newfoundland and Labrador berries and carrots, pea sprout purée
Wine: 2012 Pinot Noir, Tawse Winery, Niagara

If you’d like to purchase a table or tickets for the Nov. 13th. event please contact co-chair and co-ordinator, Mark McCarthy at 579-4444 or by email at mark@mccarthysparty.com

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

Legros and Motti

Note: Since this review was written Chef Maurizio Modica has become Legros and Motti’s Executive Chef.

Legros and Motti's atrium area

Legros and Motti’s atrium area

Legros and Motti.
127 Harbour Drive
Ph. (709) 726-6884

Legros and Motti is stunning. It is without doubt one of the biggest and best looking restaurants in Eastern Canada. Legros and Motti is the kind of money-was-no-object Xanadu dining hall that would fit in comfortably in London, Toronto or New York’s Meat Packing District.

I’m told the planning of this new waterfront colossus began more than two years ago. It’s obvious. Owners Rob Moore, Wayne Moore and Leo Power left no detail to chance with this cathedral of gourmandization. (Their names are also linked with The Keg and the coming Jack Astor’s chain restaurants at the same location.)

Given that the restaurant is located on the St. John’s waterfront I suppose it’s appropriate that it has the ambience of a converted warehouse. Over the years our harbour has been home to all manner of large echoing structures including a south side fish plant and a seal processing plant (Job Brothers).

The western half of Legros and Motti contains an atrium of some height. When you enter your eyes are drawn to the ceiling from which hangs a network of bare light bulbs attached to a labyrinth of pipes. Below, at ground level, is seating of various kinds: communal benches, scalloped, padded circular booths for six along the north wall of windows, and stand-alone tables.

View from mezzanine of bar area

View from mezzanine of bar area


Bar
A long bar, where additional patrons can be seated, runs the length of the west wall. The shelving behind the bar is framed on either side by very high wine coolers. I assume the coolers are automated to carry wine bottles within reach of bar staff. The space above the bar bears one of the largest flat screens you’ll see. It was split into six different channel feeds, five sports and one featuring music videos.

A marble fireplace of about 15 ft. height (including its elaborate mantelpiece) dominates the south side of the atrium. We were seated on the mezzanine level above, directly east of the atrium’s mostly empty aloft space. (Stairs and elevator provide access.) I counted even more wine bottles on the mezzanine – stacked as high as the eye could see – again on the restaurant’s west wall. I could wax on about the look of Legros and Motti but I have much else to tell you.

The majordomo of Legros and Motti is General Manager, Barb Henshaw. Henshaw has worked on the mainland, namely Vancouver, for large catering and food service operators with multiple restaurants. She is also in charge of Legros and Motti’s more than ample wine list of approximately 85 wines. I particularly liked the simple, straightforward descriptions of the various wine groupings like: “crisp, clean, light and lean,” “full-bodied, rich and round,” and the cheeky, “second mortgage wines.”

Legros and Motti is billed as being two restaurants in one, an Italian trattoria and a French bistro. Although you will see the odd wine from places like California, Washington and Spain on the list, most of the wines offered, as you might expect, are either Italian or French. All but one of the so called “second mortgage wines” (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel, 2009, Rhône, $211) is an Italian red. The dearest is Solaia Toscana IGT, Antinori, 2007 at $291.

Chef
Legros and Motti Executive Chef, Matt MacDonald (formerly sous chef at award winning Bacalao), has also been engaged with the project for over two years. He told me part of his job during that period was to source the best quality ingredients, wherever they might be found.

Legros and Motti olive oil

Legros and Motti olive oil

A delicious example is the verdant, spicy olive oil that bears the Legros and Motti label on bottles and three litre tins. It is made for the restaurant in Umbria, Italy.

A small loaf of hot bread and Legros and Motti olive oil for dipping cued the start of dinner. Although they make their own pasta at the restaurant, the bread is made for Legros and Motti by Ace Bakery. Ace makes a good artisanal style product. Our bread was aromatic with chewy crust and soft, substantial white centre. Ideal.

Creamy polenta

Creamy polenta


Polenta has been a staple for many Italians since ancient Roman times. I like porridge, grits and cream of wheat so I was keen to try the creamy polenta (essentially boiled cornmeal). It was served with a “truffled wild mushroom ragoût.” The mushrooms (a wild field mushroom mix with truffle paste and herbs) had been sautéed until very dark and rich tasting. The mild flavoured, pale yellow polenta was the perfect counterpoint.
Mini crab bites

Mini crab bites


Legros and Motti’s crab bites with mustard aioli were a tour de force. I taste a lot of crab cakes over the course of a year but these smaller cakes reset the bar. Four or five of the cakes came with aioli described as “spicy mustard aioli”. The aioli was mild, not spicy. The cakes, covered in a crisp shell of golden fried crumbs, broke open into a wonderful display of sweet white crabmeat with traditional binding ingredients: seasonings, possibly egg, dairy and so forth.
Meatball sliders

Meatball sliders


Meatballs
Meatballs are back, apparently. From New York’s Rocco Dispirito’s mama’s meatball’s made famous a few years ago, to the meatball creations of Newfoundlander Rod Bowers at Toronto’s Hey Meatball restaurants, meatballs are in. Legros and Motti serve an excellent appetizer of meatball sliders with tomato sauce. The balls are homemade, as is the sauce. Melted fiordilatte (cow’s milk mozzarella) adds extra unction.
Pan roasted veal chop

Pan roasted veal chop


The milk-fed veal chop (broiled, grilled or valdostana) is standard fare at every classic American Italian restaurant. Legros and Motti does a pan roasted version seasoned with a little sage and juniper. It came with fingerling potatoes and broccolini. The chop was exquisite: ultra-tender and mild with sage and juniper deftly added to great effect.
Slow braised short ribs

Slow braised short ribs


Another very competent execution of a classic dish was the slow braised short ribs. Succulent, almost black ribs, napped with braised onion and jus rested on an overwhelming mound of pancetta mashed potato. Next to the potato was a generous sized ramekin filled with turnip gratin. No hungry meat lover could turn down this full-on plate of homemade vittles.

Cannoli
Adam Stuckey is Legros and Motti’s pastry chef. While the restaurant’s main menu heavily favours Italian dishes as opposed to French, Stuckey’s dessert card is more balanced. We tried the cannoli from the Italian side. Executive Chef MacDonald sourced made-to-order cannoli pastry shells on the mainland.

Cannoli

Cannoli


Stuckey fills them with a mixture of mascarpone, ricotta, icing sugar and vanilla. It may sound weird but I was desperate to try cannoli after I first saw The Godfather. Eventually I did, many times, and the best I ever had was in Little Italy in New York. Next time I’ll try Legros and Motti’s 10 layer chocolate cake.

Legros and Motti is an extraordinary restaurant on many levels, including service. I was hugely impressed by the obviously well-trained staff. However, they need to find their groove. A little less intrusion and better timing would help. We were interrupted too often to be asked, “How is everything? How does it taste?” Initially our mains arrived within 10 minutes of being served our appetizers. We had no choice but to send them back until we were ready for them.

No doubt individuals will soon find their groove. Meanwhile Legros and Motti, the restaurant, is well on the way to finding its groove, and making its mark.

Rating:
* * *
Price:
Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip – $180.00 (approx.)

Sound level:
High

* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional