After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s no wonder most of us begin the New Year looking for ways to slow down and relax.
Photography by John Spaulding
In a profession that demands strong leadership at the helm – perhaps much like a ship’s captain – it might seem that a kitchen with two head chefs, each with the distinct and strong personalities that cooking demands, would be navigating rough waters and eventually end up on the rocks. But in Lance Edwards and Jammie Monk, the restaurant at Puddicombe House in New Hamburg has co-chefs who work together.
A tale of two chefs
Edwards has been with Puddicombe for eight years, while Monk, formerly of Rushes Restaurant and the Waterloo Inn, came on board in October, 2016. A series of restaurant connections drew the two together to run the food and beverage program at Puddicombe.
“In our looking for staff, Jammie’s name came up. He was interested in the cooking arrangement, so it happened,” says Edwards.
“We sat down in a meeting and it only took ten minutes,” adds Monk. “We knew of each other from the industry, but then we did the Iron Chef competition together at Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 and that was our formal introduction.”
Truth be told, there’s more than enough work to go around with the opening of Puddicombe’s large banquet centre last year. Still, it was a bit of an experiment says the man who put the team together, Puddicombe partner and general manager Nick Cressman. Initially, he too was curious as to how they would work together.
“I wasn’t quite sure what I’d done, but the system has worked well,” says Cressman.
“We do work well together,” agrees Edwards. “We’ll bounce ideas off of each other. I’ll come up with a suggestion, and Jammie will say let’s add this component or adjust it with that element.”
“I like the arrangement,” Monk says from his perspective. “We’re both solid cooks and know what’s going on. We play off of each other.”
Cooking from the heart
One example is an evolution of a humble sandwich. A popular scone that Edwards had been making was re-configured with the addition of Monk’s recipe for pastrami. “People love these biscuits and with the pastrami recipe, we take a bit of my idea and a bit of his idea, tweak it and we have an even better dish,” Edwards says. The result is a house-made Chicago-style aged Cheddar biscuit with house-cured pastrami, a sweet and sour pickle and a drizzle of dulce de leche.
They can’t really describe the exact style of the food they cook – perhaps it lies somewhere between fine dining and casual, suggests Monk. Edwards says they enjoy Asian flavours as well as Indian and at the time this article was being written, Puddicombe was running an Italian tasting menu. “We cook from the heart,” Edwards says. “And we’re versatile,” adds Monk.
During the hurly-burly of a lunch or dinner service in the 60-seat restaurant, essentially the rooms of the 1868 vintage house, one room more casual than the others, both chefs prepare the dishes. However, when the hurly-burly of the wedding season is at full throttle, Monk runs that kitchen while Edwards sees to the restaurant cooking. They cross-over and help out each other.
Both chefs are dedicated to using as much local produce as possible and whenever it is in season. They’ll head to markets in Waterloo Region and when summer rolls around will draw on the herbs that Edwards has planted. “I’m growing some edible flowers for this season, too.”
Pan-seared scallops from the Puddicombe kitchen sit atop a Caribbean-inspired carrot-mango sauce with pickled cucumber noodles and house-cured pancetta garnished with candied sage. It’s eclectic and draws on a couple of techniques and cuisines.
Standards like Caesar salad are tweaked with baby Romaine, a bacon-jam crostini and egg gremolata to become a playful bit of food history: the Caesar “Cardini” Salad, named for the chef and the mythic origins of the Caesar salad in Tijuana, Mexico. They also smoke 10-ounces of succulent pork chop with a garlic scape-maple essence and serve it with a sweet pea puree and a wild blueberry-whiskey compote. It just seems to say “Waterloo County fare” but with a twist.
Tuesday night is burger night at $7.99, while Wednesday is “date night:” two eight-ounce strip loins and a bottle of wine for $60. The June Garden Party is another popular Puddicombe event. “That’s always been successful for us,” Edwards says. “It keeps getting stronger and stronger.”
The kitchen team is about to get very busy with the beginning of their second season with Puddicombe’s banquet centre, located just behind the restaurant off Peel Street. Open one year in March, Cressman says they have had good initial success with the spacious building and its refined appointments. “It’s really only been word-of-mouth at this point, but we had a good summer last year and look forward to more this year.”
The building’s architecture is an homage to the original Puddicombe house (which also includes a bed-and-breakfast and a spa). Roughly 5,500 sq-ft. of banquet space can be divided into two rooms with a total area that is licensed for 360 people. The centre is playing its role in the growing food and restaurant scene in Wilmot Township with Jake & Humphreys across the street (and its own pair of chefs), MeMe’s Café and the Scran and Dram pub with their new food operation – a market and eatery scheduled to open this spring – going into the refurbished Imperial building which also features the Bitte Schön Brauhaus brewery.
In the restaurant at the Puddicombe House, you’ll find aged Cheddar biscuit with a drizzling of dulce de leche, which is perhaps indicative of the creative process for Edwards and Monk. It’s certainly what Edwards says is “out of the box.” The combination is surprising, but it works, especially if you think of the idea of a sweet mustard and how that allies itself with the salty, gentle tang of the pastrami. “We do that a lot. What’s new and hasn’t been done before,” Edwards says of the combination. “But we’ll Google an idea too,” Monk adds. “If we find something close, we won’t do it.”
That collaboration is the key, both chefs agree. More and more, culinary operations in Waterloo Region – whether it is chefs working together during events or pairings of restaurants and beverage companies – are seeing increased teamwork. It’s an energy that Edwards and Monk use to characterize their cooking that has resulted in smooth sailing so far.
“Our styles are very similar and we seem to work in the same head space,” Edwards says with a laugh. “We almost finish each other’s sentences sometimes.”