Cooking with Jason Perkins of Ray’s 3rd Generation Bistro Bakery
Jason drew the inspiration for today’s dish from a restaurant meal he enjoyed last year in Port Dover.
It takes some work to pin down chef Jason Perkins as he motors around his open kitchen, firing on all cylinders with rock music blaring in the background. It’s a brief pause between lunch and dinner on a recent Tuesday at Ray’s 3rd Generation Bistro Bakery in Alton. Jason is checking on beef short ribs, putting potatoes on the boil and gathering up ingredients in his tattoo-festooned arms from all corners of the oblong space – all at once.
The appetizer he’s making – a hugely popular stuffed mini Yorkshire pudding – is on tonight’s chalkboard menu and he’s run out. As sous chef Catherine Taccone keeps up the pace on other elements of the dish, Jason gets started on the batter. We manage to get in a photograph just as he’s cracking the last of 17 eggs at lightning speed.
It’s almost a non-recipe: “It’s equal parts flour, eggs and milk,” he says, using a boxy stainless steel prep container as his measure. (He slows down long enough to pour the milk into a measuring cup for us to note quantity.) Jason strains the mix through a sieve not only to catch lumps but “to give it more volume; it aerates the batter.”
Jason has been honing this certainty and ease since 2008, the year he became the third generation of his family to run the place. Jason’s grandparents Vera and Gavin Ray bought the iconic bakery in 1966, when Jason’s mother Donna was 11. When she and his dad, Dale Perkins, took over in 1987, Jason happened to be 11. A good omen, he believes. A trained chef, who had been working at another local restaurant, Jason immediately set about adding a full menu and regular live music. (Those tattoos? They feature odes to favourite bands, including The Rolling Stones, along with the Ray’s logo, his family name and Celtic symbols.)
Jason drew the inspiration for today’s dish from a restaurant meal he enjoyed last year in Port Dover – a full prime rib dinner which, as often happens, left the Yorkshire pudding sidelined as too filling for an already big meal. “I thought it might be nice just on its own,” he recalls. “It might be all you need.”
He has made the light-as-air popovers the star. The rib meat (braised in the Black Oak nut brown ale, on tap here), mashed potatoes, sharp cheese, horseradish mayo and demi-glace are the supporting cast. The silver lining: all the steps can be done a day ahead. And if time is tight, the reduced braising liquid can sub in for the labour-intensive demi-glace.
The Yorkshires emerge from the oven like tall, off-kilter Mad Hatter hats, deflating only a little as they become “shrunken Sunday dinners,” as Jason calls them. Since his regulars may not let him take them off the menu, watch for new versions (lamb, perhaps) come spring.
It’s the kind of diner enthusiasm Jason takes as a sign his vision is working. “This place is cozy and warm,” he says, looking around the red- and mustard-toned space. “With the open kitchen I really get to know my customers.