Local chefs come home to roost

There’s a perception in Sarnia that our city doesn’t have enough good jobs to keep and attract young adults.

Joe Paquette and Donald Traxler blow that myth right out of the water.

Both are chefs at The Watermark Village Bistro in Point Edward, and both left Sarnia only to return to their hometown and quickly find satisfying  jobs.

“I really like it here and I missed my family and friends,” said Paquette, 26. He left to attend the Stratford Chefs School and become a Red Seal chef.

Later, he worked in the kitchen of a private Muskoka golf club, then an Italian restaurant in Toronto.

Ultimately, Paquette returned to Sarnia and found work almost right away.  Four months ago, he was hired by Okan Zeytinoglu, owner of Watermark, and joined Traxler who had arrived a few months earlier when the restaurant opened at 128 Michigan  Ave.

At 32, Traxler has a long history of cooking, starting with the White Knight restaurant on Indian Road when he was only 15.

He left Sarnia to pursue a business insurance course at Fanshawe but soon found he was bored. “I have too much energy to sit behind a desk. I want to go, go, go,” he said.

Traxler worked at a number of local restaurants including Stokes Bay and he said he learned a lot working for local personal chef Nigel Beach.

“Chef Nigel told me to work for a lot of different places and learn as much as I could from each chef,” Traxler said.  He also spent a year in Lambton College’s culinary program and studied under chefs Phil Washington and Tony James.

When Watermark opened last fall, he collaborated with Zeytinoglu and chef George Katalifos to develop the bistro’s first menu.

The goal, he said, “was to take what everyone in Sarnia knows and loves, and do it differently.”

To Traxler, that means pickerel, steaks, burgers and great homemade pizza.  One of Watermark’s biggest sellers is crab stuffed portabella mushrooms, so popular that they remain on the menu every time it’s revamped.

Traxler and Paquette have already changed the menu twice and are working on a third version. The idea is to change with every season.

“We get a lot of regulars and we want to keep it interesting for them,” Paquette said.  Weekly features range from lamb and duck to red snapper, veal and scallops. Entrees run $23 to $30.

A new sidewalk patio for 12 opens May 1.

WATERMARK BISTRO CRAB STUFFED PORTABELLO MUSHROOMS

1 4-oz portabella mushroom

3 oz cream cheese

4 oz crab meat

½ oz minced diced onion

A pinch of fresh dill

1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

½ oz  minced red pepper

Salt and pepper to taste.

Sauce: 2 oz 35% cream

½ tsp fresh pesto

Romano, asiago, and parmesan cheeses

Preparation: Stuff the mushroom. Roast at 400 F for 12 minutes. Make the sauce on stovetop, reducing the cream by half. Bring to a boil, mix in pesto and add cheese. Pour over mushroom. Serve on a bed of fresh greens. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.

– Cathy Dobson