Aging like a fine wine, or maybe more like the energizer bunny, Chef Erryn Shephard, shows no sign of slowing down or of losing her love of French cuisine. Her brilliant touches on everything from the breadbasket to the cheesecake, not to mention custom décor including her own art collection, make Grand Bend’s F.I.N.E. a Restaurant a beloved Southwestern Ontario destination.
Shephard speaks of roux in loving tones. Butter and flour are her muses. She bakes and makes soups with such passion that, at 58, when other chefs might think about standing down after years on their feet, she is consumed with what new culinary business she may yet start.
“I love it. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I’m not tired of any of it yet,” she says when you can manage to get her to sit down in a chair for a few minutes for an interview. Her 14-year partner in the kitchen, Chef Ben Sandwith, takes her chair for further questions as Shephard dashes off to the kitchen to bring yet more samples or to personally pack left-overs for guests to take home.
“There’s not a thing she won’t do for someone,” says Sandwith. He outlines the various charitable acts by Shephard including cooking for schools, churches, and fundraisers for everything from the local foodbank to Tastings at the London Hunt Club. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of dollars she has raised for cancer research at St. Joseph’s Health Care in London via her annual ladies’ nights dinners and auctions.
This generous spirit is also evident in her kitchen. While Shephard loves working with rich ingredients in classically-inspired dishes, she has respect for customers who prefer lighter or vegetarian fare.
Daily soups include the popular Coconut Curry Sweet Potato vegetarian soup. Cream of Celery Root soup, topped with apple slaw, is light, silky and crunchy. Shephard says she is seeing a younger crowd in recent years who “don’t come in for a Manhattan, but they know a lot about food.” While the certified Angus beef tenderloin remains a mainstay on the menu, chefs Shephard and Sandwith also give a nod to fish as a customer choice. Maybe it’s the location (next to Lake Huron waters) which inspires both chefs and customers to clamour for the lake fish. While the pan-fried pickerel is outstanding, so is the fresh BC halibut, pan-seared and served beautifully with lemon cream, spring peas, homemade gnocchi that melts in your mouth, and is topped with a light salad. Don’t put it past Sandwith to play it up with jumbo shrimp, lobster and other ocean fishes for his fish-of-the-day or his crostini-of-the-day. “Ben has just gotten better and better,” says Shephard.
Both chefs were trained in the US. Shephard attended the Greenbrier Apprentice program in West Virgina as well as programs in Dallas and Ohio. Sandwith grew his talents in New York City before returning home to Grand Bend, where he and Shephard connected at the Oakwood Inn. They are strongly customer-centric while remaining true to “cooking what we love to cook” and what the customers love to eat. Front-of-house is managed by Susan Tebrugge.
A visit to F.I.N.E. simply must include dessert. Shephard’s cheesecakes are deep, creamy and not overly-sweet despite being double-chocolate or peanut butter with additions of fudge sauce, whip cream, cookies and candies. She is playful with offerings such as hot bananas in deep-friend wontons with spiced honey, cinnamon sugar and vanilla ice cream. “People are more open to trying things, trusting us,” says Shephard. As well, they get summer customers on vacation who are looking for a special experience. The customer base has grown from Grand Bend locals to regulars from London, Sarnia and beyond. The restaurant is open ten months a year, closing in January and February (although it opens for Valentine’s Day). F.I.N.E. also has a busy catering business serving up to 200 at off-site weddings, custom private dining and even beach parties. The restaurant itself has two sections for about 40 people, a seasonal patio for 24 and a private room upstairs for 12. Think elegant cabin with stunning artwork and funky seasonal decorations. F.I.N.E. offers some special occasion events such as Mother’s Day brunch, Father’s Day dinner, wine-tastings and tapas with Michael Buck of Lifford Wines. And an interesting experience that combines dinner with psychic readings.
Still, Shephard is strongly hinting she wants more. “I love the feeling of yeast, dough in my hands,” she says. For example, locals pop by on Fridays for Cinnamon Friday Fries — a tribute to a long-ago Grand Bend bakery which sold iced cinnamon deep-fried dough strips. “I was taught by such great chefs in the US so I like the classical stuff and how it’s applied here. Sometimes I think I’d like to offer the food of your parents: cool, old-school and still really good.” She gets sentimental reminiscing about Oysters Rockefeller and Surf ’n’ Turf. Clearly, with 14 solid years in the bank, the loyal clients of F.I.N.E. have proven that Shephard and Sandwith have found a unique space for their talents, with the promise of more to come.
Photos by Bruce Fyfe.
F.I.N.E a Restaurant
42 Ontario Street South, Grand Bend
Lunch and Dinner hours change seasonally.