For my part I deem those blessed to whom, by favour of the gods, it has been granted either to do what is worth writing of, or to write what is worth reading; above measure blessed those on whom both gifts have been conferred. In the latter number will be my uncle, by virtue of his own and of your compositions ~ Pliny the Younger on his uncle Pliny The Elder
July 22, 2001 Sunday
Nova Scotia Nirvana; Trout Point Lodge is rich in Louisiana roots, an hour from the Evangeline Trail, co-owned by New Orleanians who used to make cheese at the north shore’s Chicory Farm. But it’s decidedly Canadian, an unparalleled wilderness experience in the lap of luxury.
BYLINE: By Millie Ball; Travel editor
SECTION: TRAVEL; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 2229 words
EAST KEMPTVILLE, NOVA SCOTIA — Once a month, from May through October, New Orleans lawyer Daniel Abel catches a flight to Maine and then a boat to Yarmouth, a town at the southern tip of Nova Scotia. By the next morning, Abel has settled into another week-long stay at Trout Point Lodge. It’s his idea of heaven. Others agree, including Food and Wine magazine, which raved about it last month. The 10-bedroom lodge is surrounded by 200 acres of spruce and pine and birch and maple trees and overlooks the Tusket River and a pond that reflects the clouds and skies above Nova Scotia. The interior is Metropolitan Home rustic, with kilim rugs and furniture crafted from tree branches. The comforting smell of earlier fires that crackled in the many fireplaces mingles with fresh scent of spruce logs that were trucked in to build the lodge.
Abel’s one of the owners. He knows how to find Trout Point, which isn’t easy. It’s an hour north of Yarmouth and an hour east of the Evangeline Trail, the heart of Acadian Nova Scotia.
“Go past East Kemptville to East Kemptville Road” — a dirt road, by the way — “then turn at the lodge sign and follow the electrical wires to the end,” said Vaughn Perret, Abel’s business partner with Charles Leary. Perret was talking on a cell phone that kept fading in and out.
Perret and Leary run the lodge, now in its second season, as well as a nearby cheese dairy farm similar to their last project, the north shore’s Chicory Farm, which gained some renown in the mid-1990s. Abel still spends most of his time in New Orleans. He is a partner in plaintiff king Wendell Gauthier’s law firm, working on high-powered cases: the cigarette suit, the mayor’s case again gun makers, and a suit against Nintendo that alleges video games can trigger epilepsy in children.
But in Nova Scotia, the 54-year-old Abel slows way down. He becomes a favorite cousin to people he’s never met, sitting back and chatting between meals. His blue eyes are soft and smiling above a beard most folks would describe as salt and pepper. He wears a white chef’s jacket, unbuttoned at the top and sometimes spattered with remnants of dishes he’s prepared. He teaches guests at the lodge how to make a roux — pushing his reading glasses to mid-forehead as he explains Cajun and Creole food. He cooks a mean duck etouffee. He breathes in the fresh air. He leans over to scratch the lopey puppy Claudius behind the ears and coo, “Who loves you the most?”
Trout Point does that to people.
It’s quiet on the river, and as guests read on the red and blue plaid cushions on the porch lounge chairs, about the only sounds are birds that chirp like canaries and wind that ruffles the leaves, sounding like rain.
Southern Nova Scotia had been depressingly overcast for days before I arrived at the lodge the second week of July. But my first full day here, the glories of summer touted in magazines and movies — but never experienced in New Orleans — – burst forth. It was crisply cool. The sun dazzled, reflecting off the water, bouncing off leaves, rocks, blades of grass, even the tops of wood posts on the porch. Some guests went kayaking and canoeing, although truth be told you can’t go too far in the river because of rocks. Some prefer to drive an hour or so to sea kayak or fish or take a whale watching cruise. Others walk trails. Two physicians from Boston gathered wild mushrooms for Perret to identify. “He’s a born botanist,” said Abel. “Where did you find that one?!” Perret asked the Bostonians, studying a rare mottled orange specimen, leaving it out for other guests to see.
Me? I walked the road and the forest path, although one day big black flies swarmed around my head so fiercely it made me think of the swirl of dirt around Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoon. Swat. Slap. They seemed to thrive on Off. The next day they were gone.
But mainly I chilled. I’d already taken the whale watch boat and toured the Evangeline Trail, and seen the summertime production of “Evangeline” down the road in Church Point before ending my trip here.
Trout Point Lodge is a place to nestle. After my daily walks, I read. And napped. And sniffed. The pines and the spruce made me think I was in an oversized Christmas tree lot, with lakes. And I tried to figure out the aromas from the kitchen downstairs. Was that a rich broth? Duck? Bread? Yes, that night we ate sublime fish dumplings in a vegetable broth and Abel’s marvelous duck etouffee and, of course, fresh bread.
Taking it easy
Operations at Trout Point are, well, loose. Very. Sometimes it seems more like visiting three guys who have a fabulous place and love to cook than staying in an inn. Those in need of schedules may not do well here, and while a few griped a bit, most guests seemed to agree with Mark, a shoe manufacturer from Kennebunkport, Maine. “We’re on vacation,” he said. “No schedules. I like it.” An information sheet in the room stated dinner was at 8 p.m. About 8:30, guests were all still sipping wine around the fireplaces in the great room and on the porch. “What time’s dinner?” I asked Mark. “They say 9, so I’ll go down about 9:15.” He chuckled. We sat down at 10. Wonderful food accompanied by homemade bread. We ate sweet potato soup seasoned with smoked fish, clams Rockefeller, a green salad, beet greens with a slice of shark — “Are you sure you want to know what it is?” Abel asked when he set down the plate. A retired teacher from Florida just had told us about the shark attack in Destin. She couldn’t eat it, but I was blissfully ignorant of any detailed news — one of the pleasures of a vacation — and thought the shark was tasty, even laughing at myself when I decided it was the texture of a chicken breast, the oldest food comparison cliche of all. We finished with a choice of molten lava chocolate cake with creme anglaise, apricot tart or lemon curd.
The guys, as we came to call the trio, shared in preparing the meals and serving them. Over four nights, as we became friends, their personalities and differences became more evident. The boyish looking Perret, a New Orleans born lawyer who’ll be 42 Aug. 3, has dark hair and doe eyes and is soft spoken, but is the firmly-in-command soul of the lodge, directing pace and aesthetics. Tousled-haired Leary, 35, a native of Oregon who has a doctorate in history and lived in China for a while, stays in the background, cooking and focusing on business details and the cheese production. “I’m not from Louisiana like Vaughn and Abel, so I don’t talk as much as they do,” he says. Both wear below the knee shorts and sandals most of the time, while Abel rarely takes off his chef’s jacket.
They work on whim with what’s best in the markets or what they find themselves in the sea or in fields, creating new dishes or altering familiar ones. Louisiana cookbooks are scattered around the kitchen to inspire personal adaptations of local fare. “People come here to eat; it’s one of the major reasons,” said Perret.
We ate five-course dinners family style, at a long table covered with a cloth and lighted by candles. On either end of the heavily beamed country kitchen style dining room, snapping fires burned in twin granite fireplaces. Edith Piaf sang. Gregorian chants. Rousing symphonies.
Around the table were doctors, lawyers, teachers, professionals who can afford the $300 or so a day it costs per couple, all meals included. One night we talked and ate and talked and ate, and finally, Marsha, a Bostonian who with her husband, runs the oldest art gallery in the country — “dead artists,” he explained — – twirled her napkin like a second liner and announced, “It’s midnight. I’m going to bed.”
“Can we eat earlier?” I asked Perret. He admitted he likes to eat after sunset, almost 10 in the Atlantic Time Zone that’s an hour later than Eastern, but said he’d serve us earlier the next nights. And he did. We sat down around 8:45 p.m. He said we could eat sooner if we wanted.
Lunches are three courses, also served — the salmon-pink steelhead trout almandine was amazing. But one day when I was on food overload, I asked staff member Michelle Hattie if I could have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and eat on the porch. She laughed, then made one. The staff is down home friendly; Michelle and her husband, James, help where needed. Indispensable Ronnie Harris is all over the place, chopping wood and building fires, including one for the hot tub by the river; Karine and Isabelle, two French-speaking students from Quebec, work as maids so they can improve their English.
The guests. The guys. The staff. A good mix.
Perret and Leary met at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Abel, a native of Lafayette, who grew up working in restaurants, is a longtime family friend of Perret’s. In the early 1990s, they united to start Chicory Farm in Louisiana’s Washington Parish; they grew organic produce, but became better known for their goat cheese and blue cheese, which they sold to restaurants ranging from Commander’s Palace to Gramercy Tavern and Picholine in New York. Abel took a two-year sabbatical from law to run Chicory Farm Cafe, a Creole vegetarian restaurant in New Orleans’ University area.
In 1998, they shut it all down. Perret’s and Leary’s reasons for leaving Louisiana for a while are personal and complicated, as those things tend to be. They already had bought a place in Nova Scotia and they settled again in Ithaca for the winter, when not traveling or working in Costa Rica on their next place. The partners still are debating the format, whether it’ll be for cooking classes like they sometimes hold at Trout Point or a retreat or whatever, but say it should be ready next January, maybe.
They opened the cheese dairy on Nova Scotia’s Chebogue Peninsula, and last summer, the lodge. Their mission is simple: Good eating in a wilderness setting. “I came for the wilderness without camping,” said Marsha, of the Boston art gallery. “I’ve never been anywhere else like this,” said a guest from Maine. “It’s a true retreat.”
Abel is the steadying glue — – and a good evangelist. The guys won’t name names, but the 200 acres have become a haven for some prominent New Orleans and Jefferson residents.
“Mr. Broussard was up here last week with his son,” said a construction worker outside a brand new lakeside home I checked out on my walk. “Mr. Broussard?” “Aaron,” he said, as in Jefferson Parish Council chairman. “This is his house.”
And “Miss Marie’s” house over there, that would be Miss Marie . . . ? Listening carefully to his garbled pronunciation, I came up with “Marie Krantz?” “Yes, that’s her,” he said. As in the Fair Grounds’ Marie Krantz. Wendell Gauthier is an investor, though he’s never been here. New Orleans attorney Peter J. Butler Jr. said on the phone he invested as a 2 percent partner, and plans to visit for the first time next October. “We hope to make money, but if we don’t, I hear it’s a nice place to visit.”
“They counted on us to create something beautiful,” said Perret.
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