For the past four weekends chef Gordon Bailey, his wife Traci (who runs the front of the house) and chefs Sean Audet and Spencer Smith have been taking Winnipeg diners on a trip across Canada.
We partook on the final leg, the West, where it started with an “orchard” course that consisted of a cube of buttery roasted spaghetti squash that was slathered with a ridiculously rich dollop of creamy acorn squash puree. Underneath was a slice of poached pear with toasted hazelnut and some singing, acidic elements courtesy of nanking cherry and crabbapple.
We savoured each bite and nodded to each other in an appreciating unison. We tore off pieces of beautiful fresh baked breads that Spencer Smith had made that day — the starter of which he started specifically for this project (which he keeps in his apartment) — that were served with a whipped honey butter (that will never make regular butter seem good again), chokecherry preserve and sauerkraut. In the background Mac DeMarco, Grimes and Tegan and Sara played on the stereo — a further nod to this west-inspired theme.
This whole restaurant concept is called The Sentruhl Project, and it only happens every Saturday and Sunday night at Kitchen Sync (370 Donald St), a licensed commercial kitchen and event space that Sheila Bennet created.
Gordon and Traci are using it until they can find their own restaurant space, where they’ll get back into what they were doing for over 16 years in PEI, the province they moved to back in 1998 almost fresh out of high school.
“Everyone always goes west to Calgary or Vancouver [from Winnipeg], but we wanted to do something different so we went to check out the east coast,” said Gordon, whose a nice, mellow fellow who sports tattoos and a toque and who can surely pick up a small European automobile over his head.
“The main reason was to go cook seafood for a year, but then things dominoed,” Gordon continued. “We fell in love with the province and the people, and we had the opportunity to open up a restaurant, and then another restaurant, and then we blinked and it was 17 years.”
Their nationally acclaimed restaurant in Charlottetown was called Lot 30. It opened in 2008, Maclean’s listed it as one of Canada’s top 50 restaurants in 2012 and locals and tourists frequently cited it as one of the best — if not the best — restaurant on the island. In fact, when Lot 30 closed just over a year ago, it was front page news.
Two years ago they figured they’d move back here, to be closer to family. Gord got on as a culinary instructor at Red River College and while they’ve been looking for a permanent locale to call their own, the Kitchen Sync is proving to be a great spot to build up their Winnipeg clientele.
“Winnipeg’s food scene is killing it right now,” said Gordon. “That’s one of the reasons we thought it would be a proactive move, because Winnipeg has emerged as a dining destination in Canada. And it will only continue to do so in the next few years.”
Sean Audet and Spencer Smith were also chefs at Lot 30 and seeing the three of them in action (which is easy to do in the Kitchen Sync’s open concept room) you get the feeling that these fellows are really enjoying what they are doing.
After our stunning first squash course we tucked into a rustic “Pacific” course where pillowy gnocchi was buttressed by an octopus bolognese that would surely have a nonna from Bologna saying bellissimo (even if she considered the painting of black garlic around the bowl non-traditional).
Next was the “Plains and Forest” course that saw a big cut of Alberta beef (served medium rare without asking, as it should always be) served with a compound spruce butter, a pressed bread pudding (which had a really interesting texture and earthy flavour that reminded me of roasted oyster mushrooms), roasted cauliflower and a morel mushroom demi.
Dessert, the “vineyard,” was a knock-out; as artfully plated as it was delicious. It featured a sphere of mascarpone ice cream topped with a brown sugar cookie that balanced some frozen grapes and sugared mint. Once it was presented, Smith came around and poured a small pool of warm white wine coulis to infuse the mascarpone with. It hit all the notes: sweet, tart, and creamy, while the alcohol of the wine wasn’t burnt off so you still got the hint of this being like a wintery apéritif.
At only $58, it’s a heck of a deal for four courses of such a high calibre (and yes, they have wine and cocktails).
Of course, you can’t have this meal (although maybe some of the dishes will make their menu once they find a restaurant space), but the future concepts all sound unreal.
“We want to keep reinventing it for the diners – so what we are doing next is a heritage series were everyone’s ethnicity and background from the crew will be represented with a menu,” said Gordon.
Coming up this weekend is a menu for Ireland, which is Gordon’s heritage (check out the menu here), then Iceland (Traci), Germany (Smith), and France (Audet).
After that they’ll be getting historical, with homage’s to Expo 67, the 1939 Royal Train Tour of Canada and a tribute to the Group of Seven.
It’s an exciting dining experience, in a super cool space, put on by really great people. I’m really looking forward to getting back soon.
The Sentruhl Project takes place on Saturday and Sunday nights at 370 Donald. There is one seating starting at 7 p.m. To book a table call Traci at 204-590-6818. They are also on Twitter and Facebook (the pics alone will make you want to book a table).
The lede image is (from l-r) Spencer Smith, Sean Audet, Traci and Gordon Bailey (PCG)