Parents of Evo and Hugo // Owners of Flame + Smith

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal

One of the must-try spots in Prince Edward County, Flame + Smith came highly recommended to us by locals. Not only was the locally-focused, flame-kissed food a major draw, but we were excited to chat with Chef Hidde and General Manager Sarah, a young married couple with two little boys, to hear first-hand about their decision to pick up from Toronto and start a restaurant in the country. Hidde was born and raised in Amsterdam and the couple met there while Sarah was doing her Masters of European Studies. They eventually found their way back to her homeland of Canada where they lived and worked in Toronto for a few years – Hidde as a chef at foodie fixtures Carbon Bar and Nota Bene, Sarah at a government organization. We settled into one of the uber comfy leather banquets at Flame + Smith to talk all things restaurant and family. 

Tell us how Flame + Smith came to be. 

After we moved back to Toronto from Europe, we took a weekend trip out here and it really reminded me of home (Amsterdam). There is fantastic terroire, art and community here. We could tell that there was potential for growth and we wanted to have space and a place we could raise our kids. After years (and I mean, over 10 years) of dreaming and discussions, our business came to life. This was a 120 year old building and we put a lot of thought into the renovations and design. Surprisingly the build was smooth, but for a while we were commuting between Toronto and Prince Edward County (PEC). 

That must have been difficult, going back and forth.

Especially since Sarah was pregnant with Hugo at the time. Eventually we found the perfect property not to far from the restaurant – now we have a 2 acre property, with a bit of water so the kids can canoe and fish, and space for us to grow vegetables. 

What is your concept for Flame + Smith?

We focus on supporting local farmers and organic food. Our menu highlights woodfire cooking (we call it farm-to-fire) in a very approachable manner – you can be a foodie or just want to drop by for a beer and a burger. Sustainability is very important to us and we use local wood from three or four great suppliers. We do our own in-house butchery – we’re trying to leave very little trace and waste with our cooking. We also like to support local talent as much as possible, for example the tables in our event space are crafted by local carpenters. We strive for excellence and ultimately we want people to have a great time, excellent food and a fun atmosphere.

The decor and atmosphere is gorgeous.

The biggest compliment to us was when really good friends of ours who have known us for 15 years, said “I walked in and it was just totally you guys.” They could see elements of our style throughout the whole space – the colour scheme, the furniture and the music. 

Speaking of the music, clearly it plays a big part of the atmosphere here. 

Hidde: Sarah and I really like music and again always changing on this front. 
Sarah: Hidde is probably a bit more of a nerd on this and starts playing music when he wakes up until the time he goes to bed, and all day at the office. 
Hidde: I grew up with a lot of soul and roots reggae and artists like Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Prince, The Congos, Desmond Dekkers, Bob Marley, David Bowie all made a big impression on me.
Lately we listen a lot to Father John Misty, Gil Scott Heron, Whitney,  Miike Snow, Beck, LCD sound system, Future Islands, The National, Lee Fields and Charles Bradley, Massive Attack…too many to list! We also like rock – the Pixies, The Clash, Nirvana, Pavement, Talking Heads, Joy Division and of course lots of the Smiths! And electro too, old school hiphop…jeez this is really hard. 

That’s a fab playlist…it really creates a great vibe in here. Tell us about your favourite part of running this business.

The excitement of the restaurant – the contact with the guests when they come in. The creation of the menu, the working with the team – when it all comes together it can be a really fun and exciting thing. Seeing the restaurant in full swing, the bar full, the servers engaging, the kitchen hustling, the vibe is there and it can be a beautiful thing when it all comes together.

Let’s talk about what a typical day looks like.

The kids, Evo and Hugo, wake up Sarah at 7:00am or earlier. She gets up, gets coffee and breakfast going with their help sometimes. Otherwise they make a mess with the toys and watch TV. Hidde gets up by 8:30am and we eat breakfast as a family and all continue getting ready. 3 days a week Hidde drops them off at daycare around 10:30am. By 11:30am both Sarah and Hidde are at the restaurant. Hidde manages cooking in the kitchen, Sarah does the office work and sometimes serving a lunch table.

At 4:00pm we have our staff meal where we go over the evening’s service and menu items, special notes, upcoming events, maybe a wine tasting or a menu item tasting. Sitting down to dinner together is important for us to promote healthy attitudes towards eating and bridging the relationship between front of house and back of house. 

Hidde gets back into the kitchen for the evening rush and Sarah then makes a mad dash to get to the daycare for 5:30pm pickup. On the way, she may pick up menus from the printer, stop at the Beer Store, get fresh flowers or other errands for the restaurant. Then it’s dinner, some playtime, followed by the bedtime routine before the kids turn into zombies. At which point Sarah either works until midnight doing some more admin or falls asleep sometimes even curled up in the kids’’ bed, once in awhile even before the boys drop off to sleep. 

Hidde will work the service and close the restaurant, arrive home around midnight or later, watch some TV for a bit to calm down and then retire for the night.

Getting home after midnight on the regular must be hard on family life. Having said that, how do you guys create time for yourselves?

Well, this is hard to gauge when you enjoy what you do when you’re at work. Having the mornings together as a family is our golden hour, we never had that with our lifestyle in the city. We have a pre-schooler and a nursing baby. We’re not sure there are many parents in this situation that have a lot of ‘alone time’. Maybe they can give us some tips!

It definitely felt like we were in the thick of it when our kids were that age. Having support helped a lot.

We go to the Hub Childcare in Picton part-time and we’ve made some really nice relationships with our staff and we’ll have a server or two help out. Especially when Hugo was a baby and we’d bring him into the restaurant – all our staff would take turns watching and holding him.

What are the challenges you face as a parent and entrepreneur?

Yeah where to begin with this…I think the hardest thing to manage in our first year is finding the right balance of time spent on work and with the family. We try not to talk about work too much when at home with the kids. It’s changing and improving as we get our groove with the restaurant. We were aware of the risk and hard work Flame + Smith would demand and that is taxing on family life for sure. Especially with moving the family, having a baby and opening a new restaurant from the ground up.

Some of our friends thought we were crazy and we probably wouldn’t recommend doing all three in the same year to anyone, but we did it and we are still together and stronger than ever.

Favourite cookbooks?

This is a hard one, cookbooks are like music to me always changing and we collect lots.

I do have to say that concept driven books that focus on say, a product or technique like fermentations are always great and reviewed with most at the house and in the kitchen.

Books like Tartine, Harold McGee, books on making bread or charcuterie I tend to use more than books focused on a single restaurant or chef, but then you have books like Joe Beef, Au Pied de Couchon, and Cabin Sucre pushing the boundaries and changed everything that we thought was possible in a cookbook. The illustrations, the creativity and photography I would say almost pushing at controversy sometimes.

Any favourite kitchen tools?

My new Axe that my sous chef Rory gave me. It’s pretty sweet!

Hit us with your go-to recipe.

Cheese fondue, in the winter we have this at least once a week together.

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Hidde: Prince
Sarah: David Bowie

Can you share advice with us that really resonated with you?

It’s now or never. Don’t do this when you’re old.

We capped off our visit to Flame + Smith with a delicious meal that was flavour-forward and fresh from the farm. They say the best food is that which is cooked with love and we saw that in spades at Flame + Smith – in the thoughtful details of the restaurant decor, the shared laughs between the team, and the beautiful moments between Hidde and Sarah and their adorable little boys.