Cookhouse chef inspired by natural surroundings
By Vanessa Balintec
Published June 18, 2019
If you’ve seen a tall fellow wearing a baseball cap, covered from neck to chest in tattoos wandering in town, chances are you’ve seen the new head chef at The Cookhouse Restaurant, Jonathan Harris.
His wife Suyeon and their children moved to Haliburton from Saskatoon this past April. Harris officially took over as of June 1, along with his new chef Matthew Anderson, and has started by bringing in some changes to the menu.
“We didn’t completely destroy the menu and rebuild it,” said Harris. “We kept some of the items, we just maybe brought the techniques used and the ingredients up a little bit. Things are still recognizable – it was very important to me not to create a spaceship on top of the mountain that everybody talked about but no one came to see.”
Old favourites like fish and chips can still be found, but new items are noticeable. Vegetarian items such as macaroni and cheese and fried mushrooms made with foraged ingredients from Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve cater to more plant-based diets.
A few more adventurous items such as shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles are items Harris said can appeal to everybody. And if nothing on the menu appeals, Harris said his staff can whip something up on the spot.
“We want everyone to be here,” said Harris. “It seems like there’s a diverse group of people that live here, different economic statuses, different everything. We want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable.”
Harris has worked in restaurants around North America before finding his way to Haliburton. He built up his career through learning skills from other jobs such as butchering and learning how to bake.
The Cookhouse Restaurant will mark the sixth restaurant that has been under his management.
“Being chefs, my wife and I moved around quite a bit,” said Harris. “Most chef jobs are in cities. On the sidelines, we were always looking for something more simple. Not simple in the sense of easy, but simple in the sense of quality of life and just the day-to-day stuff. Instead of getting up, sitting in traffic, going to work and not being super inspired ... it’s incredibly inspiring up here.”
Harris is hoping to plan new events that highlight food native to Haliburton and community businesses.
“We’d like to grow into doing maybe mushroom dinners, or foraged food dinners and special events, on top of what we normally do,” he said.
Suyeon met with owners of Maple Avenue Tap and Grill, Andy Oh and Sunny Park, former owners of Hankook E Korean Cuisine, and Harris is hopeful for a future collaboration.
“My wife’s Korean, and he and my wife are talking about doing an event where I’d love to have him come up here and take over the restaurant for the night, have Korean food for the night,” said Harris. “Community is very important to me. I think in a small area like this we could probably help each other out.”
Harris is hoping to bring changes to the restaurant over time. “I think the food scene has changed quite a bit in Canada,” he said. “I’d like to have some fun up here, and maybe we can introduce some people into some new things they haven’t seen or heard of before.”
His vision for the produce used at The Cookhouse goes far into the future with growing their own ingredients. “We have 60 acres of open pasture and farm,” said Harris. “We do have pigs and goats that aren’t used for the restaurant, but it would be my goal to one day have that turned into a facility for the restaurant.”
The Cookhouse Restaurant is located at the Base Camp of Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve Ltd. at 1095 Redkenn Road, and they’re open year-round except Christmas Day. To learn more about their menu, hosting, and catering services, you can visit their website at https://www.haliburtonforest.com/amenities/the-cookhouse-restaurant or call 800-631-2198.