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From the Sea to the Plate

For chef Seadon Shouse, his new cookbook is a culinary adventure decades in the making

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Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, foraging for lowbush blueberries, fishing for dinner, and preserving seasonal vegetables were normal childhood endeavours for chef Seadon Shouse. Living off-grid, the family fridge was a nearby cold stream, and cookies were made from flour he ground himself.

These from-the-land-and-sea experiences during his formative years have taken hold of his present-day culinary spirit. “I did not realize it until the past couple of years, but my upbringing in Nova Scotia shaped my style and my passions—for cooking with wild edibles, for preservation, and for coastal products,” says Shouse.

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Honouring his origins

Shouse’s boyhood food experiences form the foundation of his new cookbook and memoir, From the Hill by the Sea, and much of what he serves at Halifax, his fine dining restaurant that sits inside the W Hoboken Hotel (yes, it’s no coincidence the restaurant’s namesake speaks to Shouse’s Atlantic Canadian roots) with a towering view of the Manhattan skyline.

“The cuisine at Halifax restaurant is northeastern farm and coastal cuisine, which means we focus on locally raised meats and wild North Atlantic fish, all cooked with seasonal, sustainable ingredients,” he says.

According to Shouse, his cooking ethos is to prepare as much as possible from scratch and to use what is available from the wild and in season locally. These aspirations are played out in From the Hill by the Sea, part cookbook and part memoir that details, through recipes and intimate personal stories, his philosophy of the culture of food, cooking, and life.

Through striking imagery and his thoughtful prose, Shouse masterfully weaves in his memories of childhood fishing for mackerel, foraging in the woods for mushrooms, and harnessing the power of fire to cook outdoors. You can’t help believing he’s fondly rediscovered his past. Indeed, readers are left feeling closer to nature and to the source of the food that sustains us.

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Creating heartfelt cuisine

Traditional coastal Nova Scotian cuisine leans heavily on gifts from the sea, which play a starring role in From the Hill by the Sea. Shouse developed an affinity for seafood at a young age by collecting sea snails and fishing in the coastal waters a stone’s toss from his front door.

Traditions of preservation, including smoking, curing, and fermenting, also play out on the pages. A core of his professional philosophy of sustainability is to make as much as possible in-house at Halifax restaurant. So it’s not surprising that readers are rewarded with preparation techniques for authentic vermouth, seaweed kimchi, and even homemade sea salt. And an enticing grilled broccoli stem salad speaks to the chef’s approach to reducing food waste.

Each recipe is accompanied by a touching origin story from the author that includes how he came up with the recipe and descriptions of its unique ingredients. “I’m guessing I was close to six years old when my dad instructed my sister and me to dig our hands into the seaweed and look for mussels and periwinkles in front of our house in Nova Scotia,” is how the readers are introduced to a recipe for periwinkle and ramp toast.

Imaginative, decidedly playful, yet approachable dishes include wild salmon bathed in a ramp salsa verde, pollock served with tomato butter, umami-laced dried mushroom soup, and a twist on Nova Scotia’s famous blueberry grunt that surely made Shouse feel like a kid again.

“It was wonderful to remember the past and better understand how this influenced the chef I am now,” Shouse says. This is all proof that From the Hill by the Sea is a culinary adventure from boyhood to master chef.

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Close to home

There are many reasons Seadon Shouse always has seasonal, local ingredients top of mind when developing recipes: “Local in-season ingredients usually taste better, and are better for your health and … the environment than something that’s been shipped from halfway around the world.”

He also has an unwavering devotion to foraged edibles such as chicken of the woods (a type of wild mushroom) and beach plums, and he wants more people to experience the pure pleasures of finding and cooking with nature’s gifts. “A big benefit of … sourcing … ingredients from the wild is it gets [you] outside more to appreciate nature and what this earth provides for us,” says Shouse.

But has he brought any cherished ingredients from his homeland to the kitchen of Halifax restaurant? You bet. “We use Nova Scotia halibut, cod, sea truffle, dulse, kelp, and sea lettuce on the menu and also serve my favourite provincial sparkling wine, Benjamin Bridge,” says Shouse. His hunger for a taste of yore runs deep.

Chef Shouse’s Instagram feed (@seadonshouse) is a visual potluck of what he does best: taking amazing ingredients and using traditional techniques to create dishes that are as fetching to the eye as they are delicious to the palate.

From the Hill by the Sea will appeal to readers interested in finding new ways to cook fresh dishes, whether they’re foraged or not. And Shouse applies his playful approach to foods such as miso, which he makes not just with soybeans but also with everything from sorghum to black-eyed peas or einkorn.

“I’ve got an idea for an einkorn grain and winter vegetable risotto that is infused with the einkorn miso,” says Shouse. He admits, though, that one of the soybean pastes he’s been fermenting for more than two years might hit an intensity level that even his inventive menu will struggle to contain.

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What grows together goes together

According to Chef Shouse, to make your meals sing with more terroir, try pairing ingredients sourced from the same areas. “An example would be how forest berries and forest mushrooms perfectly complement game meats,” Seadon explains. It’s not surprising that recipes in his book aren’t shy about teaming seaweed up with seafood.

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Four guiding principles

From the Hill by the Sea is carved into four sections—Finding, Catching, Playing, Hiding—whimsically titled to reflect Seadon Shouse’s journey through childhood on the southern shores of Nova Scotia. “These are named after what any child would enjoy doing,” he says. We can use them to cement a better relationship with the food we eat and the health we glean from it.

Finding:  Searching for food in the wild is always a joy for kids and adults alike. Foraged edibles such as seaweed, mushrooms, and berries deliver unique tastes and improved nutrition.

Catching:  Chef Shouse never turned down the chance to cast a line. Reeling in sustainably caught wild species including salmon and mackerel provides a bounty of flavour and important nutrition such as heart-benefitting fatty acids.

Playing:  “What child doesn’t love playing with an outdoor fire?” quips Shouse. Culinary techniques such as smoking and cooking over a flame can breathe new life into quality ingredients and make meal prep fun again.

Hiding:  Remember the joys of hide-and-seek? Shouse makes use of time-honoured preservation methods such as pickling and fermenting to keep nature’s nutritious and flavourful seasonal bounty tucked away to be rediscovered later.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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