Story by Sarah Deveau
LUNENBURG, NOVA SCOTIA – With its strong Acadian history, it’s not unusual in Nova Scotia to find restaurants in even the smallest locales that are touched by French influences.
Finding a nationally recognized establishment owned by a brilliant, classically trained French chef in a town with fewer than 2,500 people? Now that’s unexpected.
In historic Lunenburg (population 2,300), chef Martin Ruiz Salvador has created his own local food empire that began with his keystone restaurant, Fleur de Sel. He visits the weekly farmers market in the town to source ingredients for the restaurant that ranks 17th on the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide. “I buy all the produce for this restaurant on Thursdays from the Lunenburg Farmers Market. For meats, we’ve been dealing with the same purveyors for 10 years now. We use fish brought to shore at Lunenburg, Atlantic beef, Nova Scotia lamb.”
Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Ruiz Salvador entered the kitchen as a dishwasher in Halifax, and knew immediately that a culinary career was for him. He travelled the country as a line cook, working in prestigious hotel restaurants, before enrolling in the two-year Le Cordon Bleu Program at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona.
“After I graduated, my wife, Sylvie, and I went to Ireland and I worked in Dublin’s Michelin-starred Commons Restaurant under chef Aiden Byrne. While I was there, a lot of people in the kitchen were French, and they kept telling me, you gotta go to France, you really have to go to France.”
Fine Dining in Nova Scotia
Ruiz Salvador moved back to Halifax first and worked in two renowned Nova Scotia restaurants before deciding he had to work in a real French kitchen. He and his wife moved back to Europe, spending a year in France. During that time, Ruiz Salvador worked at the then-Michelin-starred Lyon de Lyon with chef Jean-Paul LaCombe and Caro de Lyon under chef Frédérick Côte.
When he returned to Canada for the second time he worked for a large restaurant chain for just eight months before the couple decided to open Fleur de Sel in 2004. Ruiz Salvador felt Lunenburg would be the ideal spot to open a seasonal restaurant. With seating for just 30 diners, the restaurant — which is in a renovated home originally built in 1849 — stays busy with regulars, patrons who arrive to celebrate special occasions and, of course, plenty of tourists delighted to find world-class cuisine just steps away from the waterfront.
“There is a lot of French influence on the food, but with seafood being so delicate, you have to develop simple flavours, not too heavy. I’d say northern French influences. There was a time when I’d be at the farmers market and I would be the only person buying and using some ingredients, and now there are five other restaurants picking up the same ingredients. It makes it difficult to continue to stand out, but I’m always challenging myself,” Ruiz Salvador says.
Along with Fleur de Sel, Ruiz Salvador operates Salt Shaker Deli and the South Shore Fish Shack, both offering menus built around local seafood and produce. ”The community has been very supportive of us,” he says, “and I’m thankful for that.”
MORE ABOUT FLEUR DE SEL
Location: 53 Montague Street, Lunenburg, NS (see map below)
Menu Price Range: Most dinner entrees cost $26-$36, with the priciest item being salt water & butter poached lobster, at market price.
You Must Order: Lunenburg Scallops ($26)
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