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Saint John Chef Serves Homestyle Cooking With A Side of Nostalgia and Surprise

Matthew Elliot's "Dulse Bread," a recipe taken from an old New Brunswick cookbook. (Image: Submitted)

SAINT JOHN– A Saint John cook hopes to take his specialty of elevated New Brunswick home-style cooking to the port city with a new restaurant. But first, he’s testing out the waters with pop-up restaurants around the city.

Matthew Elliott is the chef behind Ethel & Mary’s, a restaurant that aims to give customers a sense of nostalgia and surprise by applying culinary knowledge to home-style, family favourite dishes.

“Ethel and Mary’s were my grandmothers who have both passed on now. Part of the point of the restaurant is to have something that honours them,” says Elliott. “It’s a bit of a living monument to them. They were both very matriarchal, so the whole food thing in my family comes directly from them.”

Elliott sources his creations from his grandmothers’ personal recipe collections and through New Brunswick cookbooks which he sources and collects from used bookstores such at Loyalist City Coin in Saint John.

“I collect these New Brunswick collections of recipes and cookbooks. I also have my grandmother’s recipes and stuff like that. But there are quite a few little, independently made recipe collections you can find.”

Elliott plans to open a brick-and-mortar location next year, but in the meantime, he’s been hosting pop-up events at the Mahogany Manner in Saint John and will host them in different places uptown in the future.

Matthew Elliott and his cousin Ashley Elliot in the kitchen (Image: Submitted)

“It’s going to be a restaurant, but for now, I’m just trying to build brand awareness,” he says. “The pop-ups are a good way to get across what kind of food we’ll be doing and what you can expect at the restaurant. They are also very fun. The venue that we do them in is really great.”

The next pop-up event takes place on March 15. One of the items on the six-course menu for that night is a beef pot roast with glazed carrots and gravy.

“At my grandmother’s table, especially during the holidays, you would have pickles and preserves, bread, butter and a roast all on the table,” says Elliott. “I think the March pop-up is that but organized in a different way. It puts an exclamation point on how beautiful that stuff is. I’m really not keen on blowing someone away with technique.”

This is the kind of treatment you can expect from all Ethel and Mary’s dishes.

“The whole concept of the restaurant is to take their attitude towards food, rather than trying to be too fussy or self-serious about it,” says Elliott. “It’s really easy to be self-serious about food now because of reality TV and Instagram. I’m guilty of it too. We all are. But to me, it’s important a little measured about it.”

The goal is to open up the Ethel and Mary’s location by spring 2020. Elliott says he is looking around different places. He has settled on a location but does say it will be uptown. He says the restaurant will be small, with only about 30 to 40 seats and a chalkboard menu.

“I think it will be nice to avoid printing menus, just because it’s wasteful and time-consuming. But also a chalkboard menu makes it a lot easier to be local and seasonal.”

As with the food, his grandmother’s legacy will also set the tone of the restaurant itself.

“If the restaurant is a place that my grandmothers wouldn’t feel comfortable eating, then that’s a mistake,” says Elliott. “It’s a bit of a guiding light.”