Just Opened: Haisai: James Chatto talks to Michael Stadtländer about his new, somewhat straightforward (but still deeply idiosyncratic) restaurant

Just Opened: Haisai: James Chatto talks to Michael Stadtländer about his new, somewhat straightforward (but still deeply idiosyncratic) restaurant

If you build it, they will come: Michael Stadtländer's new Singhampton restaurant, Haisai (Photo courtesy of Haisai) 

Michael Stadtländer, chef, environmentalist, multimedia artist and all-around gastronomical guru, left the world of regular restaurants behind in 1993 when he bought Eigensinn Farm, a 100-acre Grey County property where he’d prepare feasts for a few lucky guests at a time. This September, he’s returned to the fold with Haisai, a 28-seat restaurant and bakery in the village of Singhampton. The new spot shares the same whimsical style; he built all the furniture by hand and spent two years decorating the fairy tale–like rooms (think pebble-encrusted walls, seashell wall sconces, light fixtures fashioned from sawn-off wine bottles and the odd pair of antlers).

Here, we talk to the chef about his latest career move.

Chef Michael Stadtländer at Feast of the Fields 2009 (Photo by Kate Allen) 

Why open a new restaurant?
Well, it was meant to be a place for my son, Jonas, who’s a chef, and his wife—an opportunity for them. It was also a chance for me to create something, which is what I like to do—somewhere that would use produce from Eigensinn Farm and would be a place to go after work for a drink. Then, halfway through construction, my son and his wife packed up and went to Japan, so we had to rethink the whole thing.

And now you’re cooking at Haisai. Is Eigensinn closed?
No, it’s still available for private parties on Mondays and Tuesdays. But I can’t dance at two weddings. I’m enjoying Haisai. I kind of like being back in a real kitchen.

So it’s a return to a more conventional operation?
I wouldn’t say it’s more conventional. The room is anything but. And it’s a 12-course tasting menu with everybody coming at the same time—seven o’clock. That’s not conventional, either.

You’re cooking for twice as many people now, with twice as many courses. Is that a challenge?
These are smaller plates with maybe three elements instead of seven or eight, so it’s workable as long as people are on time and we don’t have to start the menu over again in the kitchen.

At Eigensinn, you have always been able to improvise a dish at the last minute.
That’s even more possible now. The dishes are simpler, and I don’t show you a menu.

This is the first Stadtländer wine list since your restaurant Nekah closed in 1990. How did you put it together?
Well, it’s all Ontario, which makes sense since almost all our ingredients are from the farm and the region, so I wanted our wines to reflect Ontario. And people can bring their own wine if they want. The corkage is $30.

That’s also what you charge for a jar of pickles in the bakery.
It seems like a lot of money, but when you open the jar you’ll see about eight huge cucumbers in there, all grown on the farm, so it’s good value. Our breads are organic, and almost all the flours come from Grey County. The pastries, apple strudels and plum cakes use all our own seasonal fruits.

You were always able to close Eigensinn for months at a time and travel. Can you do that with Haisai?
Right now, I don’t want to. I’m having too good a time. And winter is busy up here, with the skiers from Collingwood. Plus, in February and March I’m going to be holding dinners with luminaries from the fields of the arts, science, entertainment, the environmental movement. All sorts of people, from broadcaster Paul Kennedy to conjurer Sheldon Jafine to speakers from the David Suzuki foundation. A good thing to do on long winter evenings.

Haisai, 794079 Country Rd., RR2, Singhampton, 705-445-2748, haisairestaurantbakery.com.