Gladstone Hotel's first 'chef in residence' says food pays homage to home

Suzanne Barr is already known around Leslieville as a culturally-adventurous chef, hashing together Jamaican and British cuisine — think scotch-bonnet cheese sauce — at her restaurant, the Saturday Dinette.

Suzanne Barr says Caribbean-inspired menu, born from her summer residency, is a 'love letter' to her mom

Suzanne Barr has been perfecting a new menu at the Gladstone Hotel this summer as part of a new "chef in residency" program that supports enterprising culinary artists. (Supplied by the Gladstone Hotel)

Suzanne Barr is already known around Leslieville as a culturally-adventurous chef, hashing together Jamaican and British cuisine — think scotch-bonnet cheese sauce — at her restaurant, the Saturday Dinette.

But as the Gladstone Hotel's first "chef in residence," she will have the summer to push her own boundaries — taking what the program touts as an opportunity for "creative risks" and emerging, hopefully, with refined dishes she would never have time to discover otherwise.

Suzanne Barr is the Gladstone Hotel's first "chef in residence." 2:32

"You're just going through the motions when you have a small business," Barr said. "You're just trying to keep your doors open."

At the Gladstone, Barr embraces creative freedom: the liberty to create new things, but also time away from the various stresses of owning her own restaurant.

"You want to not think about the things that will weigh you down," she said of her career as a chef and restauranteur. "You want to think about the beauty, the customers, the music, the experience, the vibe."

Reality is, she says, the daily grind dishes up daunting servings of sleep deprivation, bad landlords and grumpy customers.

Barr takes over dinner service five nights a week at the hotel, serving Caribbean-inspired cuisine. (Supplied by the Gladstone Hotel)

Growing up in south Florida, Barr says she encountered a medley of foods, but dinners at home usually bloomed with Caribbean influence.

While Barr says her dad was a wild cook who'd try just about anything, her mother took a more traditional position on Jamaican food, which Barr says still influences her cooking today. "She comes through in every facet of anything I'm doing nowadays."

That includes the new dishes she's had the chance to develop for her three-month residency, which lends her the Gladstone's kitchen, clientele and staff to solidify new ideas.

'It's a love letter to my mother'

Her time here will be spent reflecting on her first teacher. "It's a love letter to my mother," Eunice, who passed away 15 years ago from cancer, Barr said.

Barr says she was influenced both by her father's enthusiasm for experimenting with food and her mother's steadfast love of traditional recipes. (Supplied by the Gladstone Hotel)

Attached to that love letter, of course, is food — including jerk chicken ramen, one of Barr's newest creations. "People are pretty much turned upside-down when they taste it," she said, describing the house-made noodles and broth paired with jerk spices.

"It's a process, but it's something memorable. People are left [wondering], 'What was that?'"

Barr says her jerk chicken ramen, topped with pineapple sofrito, has been a hit. (Supplied by the Gladstone Hotel)

While these experimental dishes make up the meat and bones of her love letter, Barr says her life's work, as a whole, constitutes a homage to her late mother.

"I think she would be proud. She'd probably dance around the room and say, 'Yeah. That's my Suzanne.'"

With files from Metro Morning