OUT ON THE TOWN | Kingsbrae

Alex Haun – Chef @ Kingsbrae Garden

We met with Chef Alex Haun to check out his skills in the kitchen and talk about his inspiration when creating menus at Kingsbrae Gardens, using fresh local ingredients, straight from the gardens and from other local suppliers around New Brunswick. If ever there was a career that was ‘meant to be’, Alex Haun is living it. At 10 years old, he knew he wanted to be a chef and was already taking cooking lessons. At 12, he started working at Kingsbrae in the kitchen washing dishes, then returned the next summer and was already working on the line at only 13 years old. He worked there every summer until he finished high school, then was off to the Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College in PEI, where he did two years in culinary studies and another specializing in pastry.

After completing his studies, Alex was chosen for Team Canada, where he started competing extensively. He participated in the Nation’s Cup Culinary Competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan as well as the Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany. To date, he has 12 culinary Gold medals to his name, five of which are international wins. Next, at the young age of just 22, Alex opened his first restaurant just outside St. Andrews, called Savour the Restaurant which was awarded best new restaurant in Canada in 2014.

He returned to his roots at Kingsbrae 6 years ago where he now resides as Chef. Here, he can nurture his belief in minding his environmental footprint by using fresh, local products. “We’re very fortunate that Kingsbrae, being a 27-acre horticultural garden, affords us the ability to grow much of what we serve. We grow our own vegetables and herbs, we pick edible flowers for garnishing, we grow our fruit, we have loads of apple trees … all in our own back yard!” They also have an extensive list of producers, supporting local butchers and fishermen too.

The kitchen staff works all winter processing the produce, pickling, pureeing and making jellies that will be fresh and ready for serving all summer long. “Some people talk about a 100-mile diet … here at Kingsbrae we joke that we have a 100-meter diet!”

When asked if cooking with alcohol is a part of his repertoire, Chef Alex responds “always. Alcohol is a fundamental base flavour for so many dishes. First, I consider ‘what’s the protein, what’s the dish going to be’. That comes first and then you know what you want to build the base flavour with, whether it’s deglazing with wine, doing a flambé with whisky or cooking with beer. Then we grow the recipe from there.”

We wondered what he is looking forward to creating this summer. “Fermentation is being used more and more in restaurants now, and it’s something we’re starting to experiment with here. I just learned a concept about fermenting rose petals, so in October when the garden closed, I raided our rose garden! I have two different bags of rose petals fermenting with different acidity levels. My plan for this summer is to take a fresh New Brunswick Beausoleil oyster, raw, with some pickled swiss chard and top it with a fermented rose flower. The acid, the floral and the rich earthiness of the oyster … it will be beautiful and delicious.”

Finally, we want to know … what’s Alex’s guilty pleasure? As a chef, he cooks beautiful, extravagant dishes all day. What is a quick convenient food he wants on days when he just wants something simple? “Steamed Chinese dumplings! I love them. Served with a dip made of half and half soy sauce and sriracha – it’s simple, spicy and it’s incredible!”

When asked what he likes most about his work, Alex says “I like fire, I like knives, I like watching a dish transform from its whole form to a refined, beautiful plate. That’s my passion. I like to fly off the cuff and just … play.”

The restaurants at Kingsbrae Gardens, the Garden Café and Savour in the Garden are open all summer, closing after the Indulge Festival October 16 – 19. The Garden Café is open daily. Savour in the Garden is open for one seating only at 7pm on Thursday and Friday nights, serving 10 – 12 courses, all chef-inspired, mostly New Brunswick products. Reservations are recommended.

Using the Small Batch Ten Penny, I braised pork belly for around six hours, and I made a fennel apple potato slaw with toasted pine nuts and a beer mustard vinaigrette to pull it all together. I charred green onions over an open flame for the side, then finished it with a chili apple smoked butter caramel to go around the plate. Finally, I added some pickled radish and mustard seeds to finish off the dish. The pork belly came from Stewarts Village Market in Pennfield, and most everything else came from right here at Kingsbrae.

*Visit sociablenb.ca for the recipe.