You’ve got to be careful walking on the grounds at the Keltic Lodge Resort…you could be stepping on dinner. That’s because chefs Alexander Herbert and Keith Neilsen at the resort’s Purple Thistle Dining Room have a philosophy around food that takes local to a whole new level. You could even call it ground level.
Starting with the herb garden where they grow their own basil, chives and other assorted herbs, all the way to the dandelions on the front lawn that are used to make vibrant decorative oils, Alex and Keith are working to incorporate as many elements from the resort’s spectacular location as possible.
Although I wouldn’t have otherwise known that I was eating local dandelion (a true delicacy of Nova Scotian summers), I was pretty darned excited to see it on my plate once the chefs told me about it. Oh, don’t be mistaken: it had little to do with the taste, albeit the pesky backyard weed actually tasted just fine. Rather, it had everything to do with the sparkle that came into Alex and Keith’s eyes when they spoke of their uber-local dandelion oil.
And that was just the beginning. They collectively run their kitchen with a philosophy that would get even the most packaged-food-loyalist on board with fresh and local. These guys have passion to spare and they deliver it directly to the tables of the guests who dine with them.
During our meal, the evidence of this began with the sourdough rye bread. In the off-season Keith started the yeast culture that is now being used in the perfectly soured parcel of comfort food. To be clear, that means the bread being served at the Purple Thistle this summer had its beginnings eight months ago. That’s a serious commitment to baking from scratch.
The bread was so satisfying that we could have stopped there and called it a night, but when you’re in the stunning highlands of Cape Breton surrounded by some of the world’s most spectacular fishing waters, you eat your fish…as much of it as your pants can hold. Fortunately I was wearing a dress, so my performance was especially stellar. As was the Purple Thistle’s, who delivered on their promise of local sources, serving as much seafood from local waters as possible, including the halibut, which was caught just up the way in Neil’s Harbour.
For my part, I overindulged in the Aspy Bay oysters (beautifully served on driftwood and accompanied by a blueberry minuet sauce that is hands down the best I’ve ever had):
I then continued my culinary journey with delicious seared-on-the-outside-soft-in-the-middle sea scallops, and the Naked Lobster Parisian Gnocchi, which had more lobster than one girl should ever be lucky enough to consume in her lifetime, let alone a single meal.
By the end of my main course, the only thing that stopped me from making fish lips was the fact that I was too blissfully stuffed to even move the muscles around my mouth.
Yet somehow, I was, er, forced into dessert. In fact, two of my travelling companions were also easily strong armed into joining me in my gluttony. We took one for the team, kind souls that we are.
Between us, we had three of the most memorable desserts we’ve ever had: a chocolate and peanut butter piece of heaven, a wild blueberry tart with homemade ice cream, and strawberry shortcake on lemon chiffon cake. We didn’t get to meet the pastry chef, but we all fell in love that night.
The next morning, as we were all coming out of our food coma, we were packing the car and getting ready to leave when we saw perhaps the most charming sight of our entire trip. Emerging from the garden in their white chefs’ coats were Alex and Keith. In their arms was their daily harvest from the garden and on their faces, satisfied smiles. Kind of like ours after dinner the night before.