NORTH TONAWANDA — Chef Bruce Bain may be specializing in French cuisine at North Tonawanda’s Webster’s Bistro, but that’s not the only global influence on the dishes he’s preparing at the eatery.
Bain joined Webster’s Bistro as head chef just weeks after the restaurant opened in April. Owner Barbara Hughes said it was initially the chef’s experience at high-profile restaurants that made him an attractive choice to head up her kitchen.
Bain has had some 35 years of culinary experience, including multiple stints at Buffalo’s Rue Franklin restaurant and training at the Culinary Institute of America, but his love of the cultivation and preparation of food began when he was just a child.
His grandfather, who was of Italian and French descent, was a professional chef at the Beechnut Hotel in the Mohawk Valley, and Bain said visiting him as a child was always a special treat.
”He always had a three-lot yard that was just filled with different produce,” Bain said, adding that his grandfather even hunted for his own meat at times. “So much of [what we ate] was made right out of his yard. I learned to like food that way.”
Bain was inspired by his grandfather’s love of horticulture, and at a young age had his own vegetable garden, from which he would provide his mother with produce for dinner.
Once he was a professional chef, Bain said he operated out of a greenhouse and provided produce to Western New York restaurants, particularly during the winter months when local produce was hard to come by. Hughes said she found it important to hire a chef at Webster’s Bistro who cooked seasonally, which Bain calls a “just plain smart” way to do things.
”His technique and style is such that it’s simplistic and he’s of the mind to use very natural and fresh ingredients,” Hughes said. “He uses a lot of very nice vegetables and fruits and nuts in our salads. It’s all built around seasonality.”
Though he started not long after the restaurant officially opened, Bain didn’t drastically change the menu, but has gradually made tweaks here and there. What he did add, though, was a daily specials menu that highlights his creativity, Hughes said.
”There are things he’s bringing on to the menu that are absolutely beautiful,” she said.
One specials menu included a Niagara County apple salad with arugula and frisee with red and green apple slices, candied walnuts, craisins and crumbly goat cheese, dressed with mulled cider vinaigrette. A grilled swordfish dish is topped with pommery mustard glaze accompanied by a tomato coulis and braised fennel. Bone-in pork chops are served with a pommery mustard demi glace with sweet potato gratin and haricot vert.
Though he loves French cuisine — he said he’s drawn to the classic techniques and the way the French organize a kitchen — Bain said he’s also been influenced by his global travels both when his father was in the military and during his own stint in the Marine Corps.
”We traveled a bit so I got to see some different cultures and ethnic areas and their influence on cuisine,” Bain said.
His time spent in Hawaii, for example, exposed him to Asian fusion, which perhaps influenced the Thai-inspired cole slaw he served with short ribs the day of his interview.
Bain said he most loves to cook meats, but has a hard time narrowing down his favorite meal to cook or eat. Hughes said he does wonders with swordfish, tuna and a pork chop dish that’s “to die for.”
Ultimately, Bain said he was drawn to the Webster Bistro because of the “feel” of the restaurant, but also because of his excitement over the growing culinary scene in North Tonawanda, naming the proprietors of the Remington Tavern and Seafood Exchange as some of his friends.
”I feel home,” he said of his brief four months or so at Webster’s Bistro.
”When I came for an interview, I just sat here and I looked around and just the overall appearance and feel of the restaurant ... right way I said, ‘I like this.’ I could just feel it.”
Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.
IF YOU GO • WHAT: Webster's Bistro • WHERE: 102 Webster St., North Tonawanda • MORE INFORMATION: Call 264-4314