Reluctant Chef

Photo by Joel Upshall.

In the kitchen at the Reluctant Chef (281 Duckworth Street), chef Damien Gibbons is preparing an avocado lime cream for the tacos for the night’s “Ode to Summer” menu.

“I never really knew what I wanted to do,” says Gibbons, who has been developing and serving a brand new menu every week since he started a month and a half ago. “I always knew it was something in the arts, and I see the cooking that way.”

The tie between cooking and art is particularly strong for Gibbons, who experiences synesthesia, the condition where the stimulation of one sense (in his case, taste) can stimulate another sense (sight, particularly colour).

“I always just thought I was kinda weird,” says Gibbons. “Whenever I taste things, a colour comes to mind.”

The ability leads him to some unique flavour combinations.

“The flavour of avocado—especially raw avocado—is grey, like grey of a man’s suit,” he says. “You have to add something to the suit to make it work, like a bright pair of socks. So I usually pair avocado with something that tastes bright.”

“Recently, I was doing a dish with squid ink, which looks black, but gives me a real aquamarine colour feeling,” says Gibbons. “So, I mixed it with the dark forest green I get from asparagus.”

“It’s like painting,” he says.

As a chef from Lumsden, Gibbons spends a lot of his time thinking about how to translate Newfoundland food into upscale dining.

“The ingredients here are so nice, but when your Nan cooks a roast in a pot of water with onions, that’s technically ‘braising’, sure, but it’s not done with any real technique,” says Gibbons. “You can take the old ways, put a modern twist on it, and turn it into something beautiful.”