A Cajun in the cove: Grates Cove Studios blends international cuisine, local ingredients
Terrence and Courtney Howell turning heads, and tempting palates, with their unique cafe
It's a beautiful weekday afternoon at the only eatery in Grates Cove, on the tip of the Bay de Verde Peninsula, and nearly every chair is full.
There's a man and woman — clearly in love — gazing into each other's eyes and sharing intimate thoughts, while at another table four female friends chat, laugh and enjoy their meal.
Near the stage of this former school, two couples from North Bay, Ontario pass around the lobster boulettes and seafood jeon, marvelling about their dining experience.
"We were suggesting to our group that we were at the end of the world," says diner Robin Danielson, "but, as we found out, it's just the beginning of the world."
"It's just a phenomenal experience here."
Working busily not far away in the kitchen are Terrence and Courtney Howell.
This is the cafe at Grates Cove Studios, and it's their creation.
So is seven-year-old Phoenix, the dynamic little girl who bounds into the cafe after hours enjoying the freedom of outport Newfoundland.
A fusion of food, culture
The menu is written in chalk on the wall, and it's not what you might expect.
There's seafood gumbo. Cod couvillion. Dijon molasses sausage burger. And there's a side of ginger salad with a cornbread muffin.
In little Grates Cove, population 152 according to the 2011 Canadian census? Oh yes.
The cafe is turning heads, and tempting palates, for its blend of Cajun and Asian flavours, and readily available Newfoundland ingredients, from both the sea and the land.
Leaving a disaster zone
Terrence is an artist originally from nearby Old Perlican, while Courtney is a Cajun girl, born and raised in Louisiana.
They met 12 years ago in Korea, where they were both teaching English, and quickly discovered a shared love for one another — they actually videotaped their entire first date, a visit to a fishing museum — and for food.
"We ate and drank our way through Korea," says Terrence.
They eventually moved to Louisiana, spending four years doing relief work in the wake of the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina.
They both felt a strong pull towards Newfoundland, however.
"The first time I came to Newfoundland was in October of 2005, leaving a disaster relief zone, and I came to Old Perlican," says Courtney. "I have no idea how I got back on the plane to go back home after the visit because I just fell completely for Newfoundland."
'We just started cooking'
Three years later, they made a bold decision, and drove to Newfoundland in a 1981 Mercedes wagon that ran on vegetable oil, with a young daughter at their side.
They bought the former two-room school in Grates Cove, with plans to establish an artist's studio. They invested nearly every penny they made into an ambitious renovation, and opened the cafe three years ago, with no set menu in mind.
"We just started cooking," says Terrence.
They started with pea soup and cod soup, and Courtney eventually got the nerve to add a Cajun favourite — jambalaya — to the menu.
"We would give samples of it out to let people know what it tastes like, and people liked it," she recalls.
Obsessed with seaweed
That was the beginning of what they refer to as "fusion."
"Every year it gets more and more fusion," Terrence notes. "And more and more every year it gets more of a focus on local ingredients ... and it's so much fun."
The idea is to tell a story through food, and it's an interesting one.
"Our interest in Asian cuisine, the Cajun culture that Courtney brings to the table, and mainly the raw ingredients that we have around us is the Newfoundland part of the story," Terrence explains.
Their latest obsession?
A body lotion made from seaweed.
"We started touching it and realized our beaten hands started looking better," says Courtney, referring to their winter adventures along the coastline.
It's the height of summer and these are busy times for the Howell family, but when they do get a chance to take a breath, there's a sense of satisfaction.
"We're incredibly grateful we get to build a life out here," says Courtney.
"It's not just work. It really is an experience for all us us, the three of us, our family, to be able to make a life out here."