Chef Jesse Vergen was one of the first Chefs I invited to join the Chef’s #LoveCDNBeef series and I’m so happy to be introducing you to him now. Chef Jesse Vergen is the Executive Chef at the Saint John Ale House, the owner/operator of the Smoking Pig BBQ — one of the few food trucks in New Brunswick, and an organic farmer who owns the last working farm in Quispamsis, New Brunswick.
Jesse and I share a lot of things. Our culinary perspectives have been influenced by the farmers, fishers and forests of New Brunswick. We grew up along the banks of the same river. We’ve eaten from the same land. Walked the same paths. Even lived in the same house. And yet, we’d never met until Craig Pinhey brought me into the Saint John Ale House one day insisting I had to try this Chef’s food.
You may have already read about the first meal Jesse made me, it was remarkable. As the dishes came out, one by one, I was more intrigued. Then Jesse presented what I consider to be one of the most compelling and personal dishes I’ve had in a restaurant — Kennebecasis River “Unagi” — eel on smoked rice finished with picked radish, jalapeno, crisp ginger. Jesse had fished this eel out of the Kennebecasis himself just days before and had turned it into a sophisticated and elegant dish.
I don’t know if he intended the impact this dish had on me, but it really shifted my perspective on the connection between chef and diner through food. How could it not? The eel was likely swimming in the river with me less than 72 hours earlier.
However, I’m far from the only person Jesse has impressed with his food, philosophy and skills. Vacay.ca just named the Saint John Ale House as one of the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada, and top in New Brunswick. When talking with them, Jesse cited the Cheeseburger as his favourite menu item in part because it is made from local organic New Brunswick beef. Jesse worked with organic beef farmers to get quality, organic meat for his restaurant. That’s only one of the many nods to local sourcing you will find if you dig into Jesse’s menus. These connections along with his skill and enthusiasm are why Jesse was invited to represent New Brunswick in the Canadian Chef’s Congress.
Jesse has also done his time cooking in restaurants in France and trained in Vancouver. But unlike many other Maritime Chefs, he brought his skills, training and passion back home to cook what he loves, where he loves. I also applaud Jesse’s unapologetic approach to hunting and fishing — it is just another form of harvesting and foraging, after all. I’ve dropped in to visit more than once only to find he’s out smelt fishing, meeting with farmers, or on a day trip with the Saint John Ale House staff out on his organic farm teaching them about the food they are serving. In fact, many of the Saint John Ale House – SJAH TV videos end with : “We know where our food comes from….do you??”
Jesse really took the challenge of highlighting an uncommon cut of Canadian Beef to heart when he sent me a tongue recipe… but more on that soon.
Now it’s time to get to know Jesse a little better.
Quick Fire Questions:
What is your best kitchen tip for working with Canadian Beef?
Season before you cook, I’ve seen many beautiful steaks/ burger going on the back yard BBQ , without being seasoned. Don’t be that person, do as the pros do and give that farmers hard wok the respect and love that it deserves… Season!
How do you like your steak?
It depends on the cut, and what your cooking it on. For me I’ll cook say a Rib Eye a bit more then i would cook a Flank steak, as i want that beautiful fat to baste the rib eye internally, so I’m looking at a med rare, but ill be honest i like beef pretty rare.
What do you put on your burger?
Old cheddar, onions caramelized then deglazed with worcestershire, whole grain mustard.
Do you have a specific butcher, farm or vendor you go to to get your Canadian Beef?
We celebrate the organic Scottish Highland crossed with Belted Galloway’s we get from our good buddy Larry Slipp from Slipp Farm… his beef program is totally a forage based system of cattle consuming what cows love… healthy pastures.
Our favourite butcher shop is Deans Meats in the historic Saint John City Market, it’s been a butcher shop for at least 130 years, and they still use all the old school hanging racks. They dry age whole carcasses which we love as it makes such amazing flavours, and it’s following the history of this market that used to be the hub for beef buyers, wholesale suppliers, and shippers all over the Maritimes.
What is your favourite cut of Canadian Beef?
I LOVE the Tongue…. Beef tongue is the most forgotten about “cuts” of beef!
Your favourite seasoning to use with beef?
Guess not a seasoning but something that adds Flavour … Wood Smoke! You can’t cheat a real hard-wood fire’s flavour. It’s primal and delicious!
Your favourite side dish to go with a nice roast?
A big roast has to have ‘Pop Overs” or Yorkshire puddings. Make sure to use rendered beef fat when cooking them or the drippings in the pan to turn up the awesome on them!
What do you drink with beef?
Who else does beef right, i.e. what is best restaurant (other than yours) to order Canadian beef (any style)?
I’m into Maritime Beef but i was lucky to be cooking at an event and Chef Paul Rogalski of Rouge in Calgary had brought this amazing Prime Rib (Spring Creek Ranch) that he uses at Rouge… it was Amazingly Marbled PRIME beef… I’m thinking about hopping on a plane right now if it’s on the menu!
What is the most adventurous beef dish you’ve seen, made or eaten?
Barbacoa — halved slow-cooked cows head. It’s hard to cook because of the size and the shape is a bit awkward! You need a big Pit BBQ or it’s a good dig in the ground, light a fire and bury kinda cooking adventure! Well worth the effort though!
A bit more about Jesse:
Jesse is a loud voice for New Brunswick cuisine and with his classic French training, eye on international trends, and intense passion; he has become one of New Brunswick’s culinary leaders. His training at the Dubrulle International Culinary School in Vancouver, British Columbia lead him to stage in some of Vancouver’s best kitchens and to work in a bistro in Paris, France. When he got back to Canada, he cooked in kitchens in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and his home province of New Brunswick.
Jesse is not just into cooking food but the process of planting and working the land to have total control of the quality of the food. Known for cooking with local NB products, he picks fish up right off the boat, whole animals from small farms, slaughters his own animals on his farm, smokes his own hams, and hunts though the local markets for the freshest products.
“I’m a chef who lives on an organic farm where I grow and raise with my family what we prepare and serve in our restaurants using the most advanced, sustainable, eco-friendly practices possible.”
Chef Jesse Vergen’s Chefs #LoveCDNBeef Recipe:
Note: this post is part of my Chefs #LoveCDNBeef on unsweetened.ca series and Canadian Beef Brand Ambassador series. For more information on my relationship with Canada Beef Inc read about my Foodie Adventure: I’m a Canadian Beef Brand Ambassador. #LoveCdnBeef and my disclosure statement