The Flying Apron
For those of you who aren’t aware, the Flying Apron Inn & Cookery, located in Summerville, Hants County, sources over 90 percent of its ingredients locally. But for Chris Velden this isn’t anything new: “I’m always doing local, whatever is available I’m cooking with it. In Germany, you’re always getting your ingredients from the farmer’s markets.”
The German school system is very different. As a teenager Chris took the vocational path and at the age of fifteen started a three-year apprenticeship as a cook. This was mostly a hands-on education with classes one day a week. He followed this up with another six-month apprenticeship to learn about running the front of house.
After cooking for years in Germany he decided it was time for a change. ‘‘Germany got too small for me, size wise.”’ He came to Canada in 1995. “There wasn’t much beer, or wineries, or artisanal bread making then.”
Chris settled in Victoria on Vancouver Island, working as a chef. From there he spent a year and a half on Salt Spring Island. “You could not predict the swing of people. In the summer the population would swell with vacationers, and in the winter it was very quiet.”
From Salt Spring Chris began to bounce around. He spent two years in Ohio, where he met his wife, then on to Calgary, and then Vancouver. While in Vancouver he took a job as an instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Six months into this new job he was made principal of the school, in charge of 13 instructors and 250 students.
Of course he decided to move again, and ended up in Nova Scotia nine years ago.
The Flying Apron began as pre-made meals sold at the Farmers’ Market in Halifax. But Chris and Melissa were still on the lookout for a place of their own. Three years ago they found it, an old inn in Summerville. They converted it into a restaurant and inn with five rooms.
“The restaurant is going really well,” says Chris. Besides running the restaurant Chris gives cooking classes. “We’re doing four cooking classes a month, which are fully booked. On top of that we host private cooking classes as well.”
The most exciting annual event that Chris runs is Dining On The Ocean Floor. (See the video about it here.) Twice each day the Bay of Fundy fills and empties more than 100 billion tonnes of water, creating the highest tides in the world. Burntcoat Head, in the Minas Basin,is the site of the greatest tidal range ever recorded, exceeding 16 metres between low and high tide.
This is where you get to eat – literally on the ocean floor after the tide has gone out.
As Chris explains, “It’s a six hour experience out at Burntcoat Head Park. It begins with a 45-minute foraging tour looking for local ingredients that I will use to cook the meal with. The first course is a fish soup with mussels, clams, and lobster – cooked in white wine from Avondale Sky.”
“We then take the diners on an hour and a half tour of the park. When they get back the next course is charcuterie and cheese. I make the charcuterie and use local cheeses. The main course, High Tide – Low Tide, is a butter-poached lobster tail served with beef tenderloin, succotash, and foraged greens. The final course is fresh local berries, served in lavender phyllo with Grand Marnier mascarpone cream.”
Each course is paired with locally produced wine and beer from Avondale Sky and Meander River. Meander River brews a special beer just for this event called Surf and Turf Scotch Ale. It is made using peated malt and foraged seaweed.
“After all the food is done, we sit around a campfire until the tide comes,” says Chris.
The event for 2017 is already sold out. So if you want tickets, ask to get on the waiting list.
As the interview wound down I had two final questions for Chris: Who do you think is doing interesting things [with food] in Nova Scotia? and What would you like to see changed?
Chris recommended a number of restaurants, including
- The Bite House – a 13-eat restaurant in Cape Breton, run by Bryan Pickard
- Mateus Bistro – a charming little restaurant in downtown Mahone Bay
- something that David Smart has up his sleeve, starting up shortly
As to what he wants to see changed, Chris says, “I think it would be great if there were more people involved in the food scene. I know people have tight budgets. You don’t always have to go out for dinner. But just get involved in the local food community.”
“Support your local farmers. If you don’t support these guys you won’t have fresh food any more. I’d like to see more people cooking their own food and buying from farmers’ markets.”