July 25, 2019
Meet Chef Ronald St. Pierre
Locals Restaurant Comox Valley
“I grew up in Quebec before globalization when the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables in grocery stores in the winter was hopeless. Our home had a kitchen garden was our source for fresh food. In season, we canned, froze and pickled food that we grew. I have kept that connection to local in season food with me throughout my career.”
- Chef Ronald St. Pierre
1760 Riverside Lane Courtenay BC
We sat down with Chef Ronald St. Pierre to learn about his passion for creating local food at his restaurant in the Comox Valley.
What has led you to be so connected with local food at Locals Restaurant?
I like doing the least possible to the ingredients we use to make a great meal. If you start with fresh, in season food – the calibre is there to make great food, simply. I want my ingredients to tell a story. Top quality ingredients speak for themselves. Our customers come looking for the highest quality food – and in season, local products make for amazing dishes.
Was local always part of your culinary tradition?
When I graduated culinary school in 1980, the big trend was to serve what you couldn’t get at home. It was a very popular to serve strawberries in December: the more exotic you could be with your dishes, the better. When I moved to Vancouver 8 years later, I was introduced to new products and new ingredients – Asian Flavours and California Produce. Connecting back with local food came when we moved to the Comox Valley – where there were so many local products available. It brought me back to my roots in Quebec.
Tell us about creating your restaurant here in the Comox Valley.
As soon as we opened, we had people coming to the back door to offer me what was fresh that day. I remember a fisherman who came to the back door and offered me fresh prawns – they were still alive in my sink! I knew it was my calling to support people like him and to have my restaurants serve local food and connect with the seasons. And by supporting the farmers and processors that are my neighbours, I’m helping to support a stronger Comox Valley.
Do you think your customers are connecting with local food?
I think by offering local food, and by having a menu that is responsive to what is fresh each day, we are helping our customers connect with local food. There is a demand out there – but we need to close the gap to help customers understand what is available. That means sometimes we don’t have fresh greens because they aren’t available. We don’t apologize – we just explain. We go with the philosophy try it here and buy it and use it at home. As a result, our customers are definitely connecting with seasonality more. Changing consumer education will help support our local farmers and provide more local choices and lead to a consistent supply for everyone.
What are the local ingredients that you use every day that excite you?
The last thing to come through the door is what excites me: the first chanterelles of the year, the first strawberries of the year, the first halibut. Recently a gentleman came to the back door to offer smoked sea lettuce and another fresh morel mushrooms. For the summer, I’m excited about garlic scapes, fresh chimichurri and local arugula. I love local offerings like these!
Does local cost you more to put on the plate?
We find that when we get local products, they are fresher so they have a longer shelf life and a higher yield so the waste is very limited. We think it is better value for our customers and it’s sustainable – so it’s not that much more expensive.
Tell us about partnering with local farmers and producers?
I think it’s a restaurateurs job to make relationships with other local businesses and entrepreneurs. In terms of farmers, I partner with some farmers to grow products we want for the next season. We have a sit down meeting to plan together. That means that we have to commit to buying what they plant. It takes a commitment to ensure you buy and use what you order. And we don’t bargain on price, we pay a fair price.
For producers and processors, I make sure to think about products that are made locally that they can make better than we can make in house. We use a local pasta maker who takes pride in their product and makes pasta fresh every day. I use a local producer for our bacon – it means we can set certain criteria for the product so that it works better for the kitchen.
What is the most exciting thing about designing your restaurant around local food?
Local food inspires us to be seasonal. Our menu is ever changing – that’s exciting for our staff, our suppliers and our customers. It keeps me open minded and flexible. The Comox Valley has a lot to offer and I get to support my neighbours and their businesses be successful. That inspires me too.
It’s exciting to see that the entrepreneurial spirit and the drive to support local go hand in hand. We thank Chef Ronald for taking the time to meet with us.