New Nanaimo Restaurant Sources Local and It's ****ing GOOD.
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Originally published in NAHS Autumn 2020 Magazine
(Photo by Ashley Sampson)
I’ve worked in restaurants for 14 years. There are many customer requests that will elicit an enthusiastic eye roll from the back of house staff (cooks). One of those being,
“Where are/is your [insert protein] from?”
Following the eye roll and potentially cheeky comment, they would proceed to rummage through already folded cardboard packaging searching for the “country of origin” on a greasy sticker.
When I was first commissioned to take some photos and write this article on the new Nanaimo restaurant Melange, the head chef, Kellie, asked me if I wanted to go see The farm. Although I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I excitedly agreed. We were going to Farmer Brown’s.
At Melange, the cooks know all their producers on a first name basis. And from experience, you can taste the difference.
This restaurant has exploded onto the local food scene in Nanaimo. It was opened in December 2019 by Nanaimo restaurateur and sommelier Gaetan Brousseau, husband of Linda Allen of Mon Petit Choux. The name “Melange” is the French word for “mix,” an homage to the eclectic flavours and experiences of the owner and Head Chef, Kellie Callender. Kellie explains the goal of the restaurant is to source as many products as possible from local vendors.
Kellie was born and raised in Nanaimo where he developed his passion for food from a young age. His mother was a spontaneous woman of European descent who loved food, and had many multicultural friends. This influenced her cooking which was quite different from what his friends were eating, eg. spaghetti and meatballs. Hence began Kellie’s fascination:
“So from that experience I decided that I wanted to learn how to cook for myself so I could make things that I really liked. And then eventually that transitioned into me just being interested in food all the time.”
His father, Rolland Callender, was born in Sidney, Nova Scotia, with lineage from Barbados. He was a jazz musician and active member of the music community in Nanaimo.
After travelling to the Philippines when he was 18, Kellie fell in love with diverse international flavours, while at the same time, becoming conscious of the injustices of the world. He went on to study Culinary arts at VIU, working a multitude of co-op placements and jobs in high-end restaurants before going back to finish his culinary training by doing a second year in the VIU Culinary program.
In a nostalgic conversation, Kellie recounted Bhutan as the most interesting place he visited in his many travels (which include Ghana, Barbados, India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Japan).
“That answer is always Bhutan, it can’t not be Bhutan.” He went on to explain that because of their lack of contact with the outside world, preference for organic farming, and heavily buddhist beliefs, it made its mark on his psyche and palate.
“We support this local economy of people who really just want to do the right thing. You know, they don't want their food shipped from all over the world.”
Melange has over 15 relationships with local food producers, from land-based protein farmers, to fisherman, to produce farmers. To name a few: Somerset Farms (Gabriola, beef), Farmer Brown (Nanaimo, produce), Early Girl Urban Farm (Nanaimo, edible flowers/herbs/sprouts). With plenty of vegan options on their “small things” and “bigger things” sections of the menu, Kellie hopes to showcase all the local talent using French cooking techniques and international flavour inspirations. They also feature an extensive, curated wine list that offers over 25 wines by the glass as well as a cocktail menu that changes seasonally and uses local fruits and herbs. Melange provides its guests with delicious, fresh, healthy, locally farmed ingredients that are as beautiful as they are tasty. In doing so, they hope to educate the general public in Nanaimo of the benefits of local food. When asked,
“Why is local food so important?”
His candid response can be summed up in four points:
Photos by Ashley Sampson
Not shipping foods from afar decreases carbon outputs, reducing the effect of climate change; this simultaneously supports the local economy and builds relationships within the community. As Kellie puts it, the food is just “better,” in terms of taste, quality, and nutritional value.
“For example, we have the [local] German butter potatoes on the menu right now. If I just cooked them in salt and water, I would serve that on a plate, as is, as a simple dish. And people would eat it, and they'd be blown away, but all it is is a nicely-grown potato and salt.”
Seems like Kellie has married his passion for food with his desire to make the world a better place.
Melange has recently introduced a brunch menu which runs until 3pm on weekends, and I have to say, their eggs benny on house-made herbed scones is a must-try! The love of food, and dedication to local ingredients is palpable in every dish.
“We've got the conditions to grow nice food here. So it's crazy to me that every restaurant isn't doing this, or isn't trying to, or it's not on their radar.”