It’s an unusual setup — one that’s causing excited chatter among local foodies eager to try a top-notch menu developed by not one, but two, well-regarded chefs.
A few weeks ago, Social announced that it had ditched the usual “hire one star chef” model, instead opting for two chefs at the helm. Blain Wagg, Social’s former sous-chef, has joined Jeff Bradfield, formerly of neighbourhood eatery Erling’s Variety. The new cheffing duo promises to change the menu with the seasons, taking advantage of their specialties: Wagg enjoys blending his classical French training with a love of Asian cuisine, while Bradfield specializes in charcuterie and bread-making, describing his preferred cuisine as “seasonal Canadian.”
City Bites Insider caught up with the busy duo (and their pastry chef Danny Wilson) as they put the finishing touches on their new Summer menu, set to launch on Wednesday, July 20.
How do you know each other?
Blain: It’s a small community. We were in the kitchen together at Erling’s.
Jeff: I’ve been at Erling’s for the past two years.
Having two chefs at the helm is somewhat unusual. How did that come about?
Blain: I’d been working as a sous-chef at Social to Chris Craig [who returned to Montreal]. When he decided to leave [for personal reasons], I was offered the position of head chef. It’s a pretty big boat, so I immediately called up Jeff and invited him to co-chef with me.
Jeff, it’s a big change for you going from a smaller neighbourhood eatery like Erling’s to Social, which is a much bigger restaurant with a more sophisticated vibe.
Jeff: It is, but I was ready for a different experience.
So how will this co-cheffing work?
Blain: We’ve developed the menu together. Both of us have staples that we’ve done in the past that we feel strongly about.
What do you each bring to the table?
Jeff: I really like working on charcuterie — curing meats and fish. And bread-making. Brines and breads. I think seasonally. Seasonal Canadian.
Blain: I’m classically French trained, and I like to use those techniques and infuse them with Asian flavours and ingredients. It makes for an interesting team.
Does co-cheffing mean more time off?
Blain: I doubt it! But down the road, when things settle, Jeff will probably work mostly during the day and set me up for the nights. That will work well because one of us will always be in the kitchen.
How long have you been planning the new menu and what will be on it?
Blain: I’ve been here since December, so I’m planning all the time.
Jeff: I arrived on Canada Day so it has been a bit crazy. But we’ve been working on the menu for about two months. That’s when Blain and I first talked about joining together at Social, but I gave a long notice at Erling’s out of proper respect for Liam [Vainola, the owner].
Jeff: We’ll do a lot of charcuterie in-house and I’ll be baking all the breads. All the English muffins for the eggs benedict, the smoked salmon on my Montreal-style bagels…
Blain: We’ll be changing the menu with the seasons, so every three months or so. Our menu is designed around what fresh foods we can get at the Market each week. There are some things we’ll always have — like the steak frites, which we’re known for — but most things [will] change.
Blain: I’m working on a salmon dish with a coconut-yam puree, pattypan squash, sprouted lentils. We’re working on a cod dish on a potato rosti and seasonal veg. We’re very bistro in a sense, with menu ideas that are all over the place. It’s almost rustic, but executed with a more elegant finish.
Jeff: We’re doing a jerk seasoned Cornish hen with a stone-fruit chutney.
Blain: There will definitely be a little Asian here and there. We like big flavours.
And the dessert?
Jeff: I brought my blue-cheese brownie from Erling’s. That’s the only dessert that’s not Danny’s. It’s literally a blue-cheese brownie served with a strawberry, black pepper ice cream.
Blain: I’ll be doing a couple of other desserts, including a key lime pie with meringue. It will have flavours like lemongrass. It will feel Thai, almost.
You look just a bit tired.
Blain: We are! I have to go write the menus today. We had our tasting with the owner, Peter Boole, a few days ago and locked down the dishes, so we’re just making the last-minute tweaks.
Jeff: Doesn’t matter how much you plan, there are always surprises. But we’re excited. It will be fun.