Sharp: The Book For Men Spring/Summer 2019, FEATURING COVER STAR Sam Rockwell, is out now.
The last time we were in Newfoundland, my wife and I made sure to spend an extra night in St. John’s just so we could eat at The Merchant Tavern, the latest restaurant by chef Jeremy Charles, who became famous for his nose-to-tail fine-dining spot Raymonds on the other end of Water Street.
Since opening nearly a decade ago, Raymonds has changed the dining scene in St John’s almost single-handedly. Charles and his team took a disciplined, internationally influenced approach to Newfoundland cuisine, with a dogged focus on reinterpreting local ingredients and ways of cooking. The restaurant inspired dozens of other chefs across the island, and helped make St. John’s a culinary destination in its own right. Even the great Anthony Bourdain stopped through in his penultimate season of Parts Unknown.
We arrived at The Merchant Tavern after a long day of airports and the miraculous indignity of travel. We were tired. We were starving. (And thanks to what we now know to be a typical December evening in those parts, we were wet.) The place was packed. Sitting at the bar, nursing tall glasses of Quidi Vidi Iceberg beer, I began thinking that Jeremy Charles is exactly the kind of person this book is really about. In her profile of him, Lisa Moore discovers a shy, soft-spoken man who is driven most of all to make the place he comes from proud. She finds the kind of man whose work doesn’t just speak for itself — it shouts across oceans, demanding to be heard.
There’s a little of Charles’s stoic confidence in our cover star, Sam Rockwell, too. He’s a perpetual character actor who has, over an inimitable career, snarled and squirmed and hoofed his way into an Oscar and leading-man status. All the while, he’s shown his own kind of grace, and a determination to be nothing other than himself.
These days, that feels like a foreign concept. We live in a world dominated by marketing gimmicks and Instagram feeds, where a personal brand often outweighs an actual body of work. We have lost sight, it seems, of what really counts: the long days, the years of service, the passion and the drive and the tangible end results. It’s as true, I think, in magazine making as it is in cooking, or politics, or art: the work matters, more than anything else.
Back at the bar at The Merchant Tavern, our food finally arrived: a fritto misto of calamari and capelin, the small feeder fish that lure whales to Newfoundland’s shores, and casarecce with local green peas and braised lamb from farms a few kilometres away. It was simple, and soothing, and flawlessly executed — but not showy. Which is how all good things should be.