Ever since Ross Larkin showcased Newfoundland on a plate to winning results on the sixth season of Top Chef Canada, he’s made quite the name for himself in the Canadian culinary scene. We’d expect nothing less—who hasn’t been dreaming about the chef’s jaw-dropping display of east coast ingredients like diver scallops, moose, and winter chanterelles? And don’t even get us started on that whiskey-compressed apple and snowberry concoction he whipped up in the finale.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year now since Larkin won the show, so we caught up with the chef to find out what his life has been like since season six. As it turns out he’s been quite busy in and out of the kitchen.
Chef de Cuisine at Raymond’s
Even before entering the Top Chef Canada kitchen Larkin was impressing the culinary community as the chef de cuisine at one of the country’s top restaurants, Raymond’s. Jeremy Charles’ world-class spot draws in tourists from all over (the late Anthony Bourdain even visited it on his series, No Reservations). These days though, it’s not just Jeremy Charles that tourists are seeking out: diners have been increasingly asking to meet Ross, too, ever since his big win.
“The restaurant has had an amazing showing following the series, people coming here from all over,” Ross says. “That was very flattering and different, going into the dining room and talking to people who are so excited and asking for pictures. I didn’t realize how big it was. It’s wild.”
He bought his first house
Ross has been renting his whole life, so following his big win he and his wife Celeste, who is the pastry chef at Raymond’s, finally bought their own space. It closed at the end of October.
“That was a whirlwind. I had no idea what went into buying a house, and there’s a lot more than I thought. Thankfully my uncle is a real estate agent here in Newfoundland so he helped us immensely with everything,” Ross says. “Pretty much every day we walk around the house and see something that needs painting or fixing, but it’s been great. Having a home of my own is something I never thought would happen.”
And, it’s also a home decked out with all of those amazing kitchen appliances he won on the show.
He had his first magazine spread
Last fall Ross experienced another first when the quarterly publication Pie Digest asked if they could feature him following his Top Chef Canada win.
“I was flattered. I’d never been in any sort of publication, so to be featured in a magazine was huge. I was just so excited,” he says. “They did a really good job of representing me and the food in the restaurant and Newfoundland and Labrador. It was incredible.”
He’s been sharing Newfoundland cooking with the rest of Canada
In the past 12 months Ross has travelled extensively, bringing his culinary expertise to places like Calgary, Winnipeg, PEI, Vancouver and Montreal, where he’s shared unique ingredients and techniques with other chefs and patrons. One of the coolest things he says he’s done was participating in Winnipeg’s annual Raw Almond event last February alongside Jeremy Charles and the rest of the Raymond’s team.
The event, which started in 2013 and hails from Joe Kalturnyk and Mandel Hitzer, takes place each year when the river freezes and two temporary dining rooms are constructed. There, chefs from across Canada and the rest of the world congregate for special, sold-out dinner services.
“There are very select few events that being such a different group of chefs together,” Ross says. “It was so inspiring. Like yeah, it’s really cold in Winnipeg in the dead of winter, but it was so inspiring to be there. The people working with Joe are hands-down some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. They’re so passionate and they’re there to help with anything you need. We were really fortunate to be invited to that, and hopefully we can return.”
He took Newfoundland to Chicago, too
When Chicago’s famed Blackbird restaurant threw a chefs series to celebrate 20 years in the business, they asked Jeremy Charles and the staff of Raymond’s to host the closing night. It was Ross’ first time ever visiting the renowned culinary city, and he loved the overall Midwestern charm, unique architecture, and of course, the myriad of restaurants.
“We brought a little piece of Newfoundland down to Chicago and we did [dinner] how we do it at the restaurant,” he says. “It was very well received and people loved it. It’s always interesting to see what other restaurants are doing, especially Blackbird, which is such a high caliber, Michelin-star restaurant. Everybody was so amazed and excited and there were so many questions about what we were doing and the ingredients. They’re so different. There’s nowhere else in Canada, let alone in Chicago, where you’re getting ingredients like we’re getting here in Newfoundland.”
He’s getting really into beeswax
Living in Newfoundland, Ross says they don’t always have access to imported goods—especially when ferries carrying ordered fare shut down. In ths spirit of embracing what’s local and fresh, he and Celeste have been experimenting with that concept recently.
Some of their experiments have included encasing roots in salt dough to cure them or aging beef in beeswax, which Ross says eliminates some of that “blue cheese” flavour you traditionally get with air-curing. Meanwhile, it also creates less waste.
“It just gives the meat a very mild sweetness and almost makes it a bit richer in taste and consistency. And you don’t lose as much product—when doing the whole ribeye [the traditional way] you lose so much because you have to trim it. This way you just knock off all the beeswax and you have 100 percent yield on aged beef,” he says, noting that Celeste has been having similar success with plums in beeswax.
“She dips them in a couple of different layers of beeswax and lets them age for different lengths of time for various flavours, but it gives them a very fermented flavour, almost like a port. Beeswax just breaks them down in a very incredible way.”
He and Celeste celebrated three years of marriage
This August marks Ross and Celeste’s third wedding anniversary, but the duo have been a culinary dream team for longer than that.
Not only did Celeste originally encourage Ross to apply for Top Chef Canada, but it’s also because of her that Ross got his gig at Raymond’s in the first place. When the pair were both working at former Top Chef Canada winner Dale McKay’s Ayden Kitchen + Bar in Saskatoon, Jeremy Charles called Celeste to see if she wanted the pastry chef job. Ross also knew Jeremy so he called him up asking for a gig too, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“We finished up our time in Saskatoon, went back to Vancouver, packed up everything, and we drove across Canada” he says. “I think we landed in St. John’s on a Friday and we started work on a Tuesday. Like I started at Raymond’s at the bottom and now I’m the chef de cuisine… I pinch myself every day. It’s incredible.”