CAPITAL PINT: The Ultimate Beer Run

This article was originally published in the May 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

The region is frothing over with breweries. Jordan Duff sips his way through the city — and beyond — to gather all the info you need to map out a year’s worth of suds-driven tours

Kichesippi Beer Co. Photo by Sean Sisk

Kichesippi Beer Co. Photo by Sean Sisk

Just a few short years ago, Ottawa was home to a mere handful of breweries and brew pubs. Today we have more than two dozen, with still more on the horizon before the year is out. We’re living in the golden age, my friends! This is a fantastic time for craft beer nerds and casual beer fans alike. And if you can’t find a personal favourite brew at your regular watering hole, visit the source to stock up. Seeing the magic happen at the brewery and talking beer with the owners is always a good decision.

Beyond the Pale Brewing Co.       
Ottawa’s hippest brewery continues to churn out exciting experimental brews to complement their mainstays of Pink Fuzz, Rye Guy, and Darkness. I hope you’re thirsty, because their upcoming move to City Centre will include an increase in production from a 3½-barrel system to a 15-barrel system. Try it: If you’re lucky enough to visit the brewery when a barrel-aged treat is available, don’t hesitate! 5 Hamilton Ave. N., 613-695-2991. beyondthepale.ca.

Bicycle Craft Brewery  
Passionate owners Fariborz and Laura Behzadi are the creative force behind one of the city’s newest breweries, where they apply their combined skills of art and science to a wide variety of brews. Try it: Ask for Base Camp Oatmeal Porter if you’re wanting a medium-bodied dark delight — or be pleasantly surprised by their delicious one-offs. 850 Industrial Ave., 613-408-3326. bicyclecraftbrewery.ca.

Big Rig Brewery      
Big Rig has recently become Bigger Rig, with a second brew pub opening in the east end at Gloucester Centre and a Kanata production facility in the works. The latter will collaborate with other small local breweries to create some liquid gold. Try it: Keep your head up while shopping at the LCBO — their award-winning Black IPA will soon be available. 2750 Iris St., 1980 Ogilvie Rd., 103 Schneider Rd. bigrigbrew.com.

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Les Vilains Garçons

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Les Vilains Garcons. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Les Vilains Garcons. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

They are indeed vilains, these boys.

I was dotting the last i on a review of the one-year-old Hull restaurant, when the friend with whom I had just lunched sent me a link to Les Vilains Garçons’ Facebook page. On it, co-owners Cyril Lauer and Romain Riva wrote that they were closing. After much soul searching, the post read, they were so sorry to have to say this, but they were shutting their doors. Their final day would be in June. Merci beaucoup, etc…

With a heavy heart, I hit delete. The review was now moot.  And as sad as I was for them, I was sad for me too: back to the blank page, needing to book another table somewhere else to fill this space.

The few people I told in the restaurant industry that evening were shocked and saddened. They no doubt told others. Word spread of yet another failed restaurant.

The next day — April 2nd as it happens — ha ha hee hee ho ho. They weren’t really closing. It was their poisson d’avril, the trick they played on April first (to a hook-lined restaurant critic among others).

So call me a pooper but I wasn’t giggling. There’s been too much grief about shuttered restaurants, and I don’t find much funny about ‘news’ of one more.

I retrieved the review from the trash bin. ‘Naughty and Nice’ had been the general theme. It seemed pretty bang on now.

The last time I tasted Romain Riva’s cuisine was at The Wakefield Mill Inn, where he had worked his way up to executive chef. Before that, he had apprenticed at Oncle Tom in Hull. The boys opened Les Vilains Garcons in early 2014, in the upstairs space vacated by Gy Resto when it moved to rue St Jacques.

They’ve done a nice job with the interior – tables have been plastered with wine labels, walls covered with chalkboards, and splashes of red add drama. The atmosphere is buzzy, welcoming, and service has been uniformly kind. The food, however, has been inconsistent.

For every dish I’ve liked — and there have been a few — the next two have been troubled.

 

Paella. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Paella. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Presentation is one key problem. It’s fussed over, to be sure, and there’s no shortage of playfulness on the plate, but the look is contrived, flavours and textures don’t always add up, or else they collide in the mouth.

I’ve liked some things: the steak tartare with puffed mustard seed, charred toast and a minted pea salad (served in an enormous stainless mixing bowl.) The calamari was fresh tasting and very tender, though its batter was unseasoned. Oysters have been luscious. A ratatouille (of sorts) was fine.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

These dishes have been part of the pintxos selection — bar snacks from the Basque region — that lead the blackboard menu. (The menus are all on the wall, which typically requires leaving your table to wander over for a read and a think, and then returning to your chair to wait for your server and then trying to remember what you thought you wanted when he arrives. And then getting up again to read the wine list. Bring a notebook.)

Pinxtos. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Pinxtos. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

One night the 3-pintxos-for-$15 deal arrives on a three-tiered cake stand, Oysters on top. One is fine, one is gritty. A scallop crudo with avocado cream is on tier two. It tastes better than it looks, and it looks inexpertly hacked up. Mackerel sashimi with torn sheets of nori and a pretty pedestrian wakame salad anchor the bottom.

Octopus arrives dangling like socks on a clothesline, cooler than ideal and a bit rubbery. An unseasoned, bone-in tempura frog’s leg hangs next to it, along with plantain crisps that taste like they were crisped quite a while ago. Beneath the stringed up food is a treatment of beets, including a Pepto-Bismol coloured beet purée (mixed with mascarpone) which tastes okay but looks like it ought to be icing a cupcake. That same pink anchors a whole sardine on another plate of pintxos, its flesh unpleasantly mushy.

Salmon tartare with an avocado cream and tempura fried onion is marred by an over generosity of cheap-tasting red caviar. One night the paella special is a bust — the seafood overcooked, the pea-dotted rice tasting very ordinary and saffron-free. Much better is a main dish of braised ris d’agneau (lamb sweetbreads) served with a mustard sauce and grilled zucchini, and with sweet potato crisps adding colour and crunch.  I could have done without the avocado purée on the bottom. One element too many.

Octopus and frog's leg on a line. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Octopus and frog’s leg on a line. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

There are some things to like in this upstairs lair — atmosphere, service led by the affable Lauer, and the price point is pretty reasonable. But I’d like to see these Vilains Garcons reign themselves in a bit. Get rid of the gimmicks, and favour simplicity over theatrics.

And I’m not joking about that.

Les Vilains Garcons

39A rue Laval, Gatineau, 819-205-5855 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINE: Lunch at Tante Carole

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships. 

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Found in the Chelsea space where the former vegetarian restaurant Café Soup’Herbe used to be, Tante Carole (so named in honour of an invented auntie) isn’t operating at full tilt yet. It awaits its liquor licence — at which point dinner service will begin. My visit was for an abstemious mid week lunch and this post is a report on it, with a promise for a more filling review in due course.

So for now, I’ll just tell you the kitchen team of Jonathan Harris and Suyeon Myeong are plating some promising plates. And I’m raising a (water) glass for two of them — the smelt Caesar salad and the sweet potato pierogies. Both terrific.

Smelt caesar. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Smelt Caesar salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Moistened with a fennel cream sauce and toped with a pickled beet salad, the browned pouches of well-seasoned sweet potato were perfectly cooked, elevated by what was beneath and above them. And I can’t remember when I last ordered a Caesar. But I have a real soft spot for smelts, and these guys were big fellas, crispy-fried, flaky-fleshed, clean-flavoured. They topped crunchy greens, cheese and croutons tossed in a vibrant dressing.

Sweet potato pierogies. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Sweet potato pierogies. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We were two at lunch, and made it clear we’d be sharing. Without any muss or fuss, both the Caesar and pierogi orders arrived on two plates. Nice. The photographs reflect half orders, though its possible they were over generous with those smelts.

Apple pie still warm from the oven was on offer. How to refuse that? It came with soft peaks of cream and two forks.

I’m looking forward to returning…

Tante Carole

168 Chemin Old Chelsea, 819-866-3149

 

CITY BITES INSIDER: Ottawa chefs line up for one-of-a-kind aprons

BY SARAH BROWN

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Matt Somers’ one-of-a-kind Wove & Grain aprons, for chefs, gardeners, woodworkers, flower arrangers…

Meet Matt Somers. The one-time baker behind the luxe cakes at It’s A Matter of Cake has reinvented himself as a custom apron maker. And the city’s fashion-forward chefs are lining up for his one-of-a-kind aprons.

Who better to design aprons than a chef? Dessert lovers will remember Matt Somers as the pastry genius behind It’s A Matter of Cake, which he gave up when things became too hectic between his and wife Erin Carmichael’s businesses (she runs Full Bloom Floral Design). Now Somers, who calls himself a lifelong “fixer and putterer,” has unveiled Wove & Grain, which sees him designing good-looking custom aprons for chefs (and flower arrangers and woodworkers) around town. Strong and stylin’, each apron features a hand-sewn, adjustable leather harness so it fits just so. Given the trend toward open kitchens, a chef’s got to look good!

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EATING & DRINKING GUIDE 2015: The Ottawa Food Lover’s Guide to Everything

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All around town, chefs are focusing their considerable talents on preparing comfort food. Many restaurants are striving to become neighbourhood destinations as knowledgeable diners gravitate to casual eateries and skilled home cooking, modestly presented. The trend is toward gathering in groups, sharing both plates and tables. We want to kick back, enjoy unpretentious dishes made with fresh local ingredients, and wash it all down with a seasonal craft beer or a new wine discovery from Prince Edward County.

The 2015 edition of Eating & Drinking reflects this sensibility, with Ottawa Magazine restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay paying special homage to neighbourhood destinations and tucked-away eateries as part of this season’s guide to 32 must-eat restaurants. As the desire for a more intimate dining experience takes off, so does the appetite for a more personal connection to the growers and makers of all that we eat and drink.

Small-batch foods, artisanal cordials, and craft beers are tempting because they taste great but also because we feel a connection to the farmers, brewers, bakers, and butchers who are preparing them just for us. Welcome to the table.

By Sarah Brown 

Eat
Ottawa’s most exciting new food businesses and best restaurants

New and Noteworthy
Fifteen of the tastiest new additions to the culinary landscape. By Shawna Wagman

Small-batch finds
The yummiest, the most sophisticated, the trendiest small-batch things you need to try right now. Our opinionated checklist for the discerning locavore. By Cindy Deachman, Anne DesBrisay, and Shawna Wagman

Restaurants
Some offer a boisterous evening at the bar; others are comfortable old-timers, innovating gracefully to keep up with the times. Ottawa Magazine restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay selects 32 restaurants for this year’s must-visit list. By Anne DesBrisay

Festive Gourmet
An overview of the next 12 months of finger-licking celebrations. By Matt Harrison

Adventurous Gourmet
Restaurateurs are devising all manner of inventive special events to satiate our hunger for novelty. By Amy Allen

The much-anticipated Fauna makes it onto Anne DesBrisay's "Eat Here This Year" list. Photo by Marc Fowler

The much-anticipated Fauna makes it onto Anne DesBrisay’s “Eat Here This Year” list. Photo by Marc Fowler

Briana Kim of Café My House talks about raw agave, Kitchen Nightmares, and other favourite things in the 2015 edition of Ottawa Magazine's Eating & Drinking. Photo by Luther Caverly

Briana Kim of Café My House talks about raw agave, Kitchen Nightmares, and other favourite things in the 2015 edition of Ottawa Magazine’s Eating & Drinking. Photo by Luther Caverly

Shop
A curated guide to satisfying your gourmet grocery and takeout needs. By Cindy Deachman

My Favourite Things
Featuring…

Rich Wilson of The Pomeroy House
Briana Kim of Café My House
Cyril Nebout and Leslie Yang of Cylie Artisans Chocolatiers
Sara Pishva of Top Shelf Preserves
Kimiko Uriu of Kimicha Tea

Drink
Wines and craft beers to suit every event on your social calendar. 

David Lawrason details his 47 favourite bottles.

The Ultimate Beer Run. By Jordan Duff

Refreshing Craft Beers. By Jordan Duff

Back Page
Dinner With the Family: Erling’s Variety

Susan Phipps, owner of the Joy of Gluten Free, is highlighted in the Bakers section of the 2015 Eating & Drinking guide. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Susan Phipps, owner of the Joy of Gluten Free, is highlighted in the Bakers section of the 2015 Eating & Drinking guide. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: North & Navy’s simple pleasures not ‘that kind of Italian’

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

North and Navy

Cicheti — Venetian tapas — features sardines and other small fish. Just one of many little treasures on offer at North & Navy. Photo: Marc Fowler/Metropolis Studio

Cichèti are pronounced chi-ket-ee.. I had to look that up. In fact, I had to look up a few things before visit one to North & Navy, unacquainted as I was with the tradition of bar-snacking in Venice. Still, there were questions required of our server before we felt ready to make our cicheti choices. And in the end, we just ordered them all.

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CITY BITES INSIDER: Bruce Wood has big plans for Beau’s

By SARAH BROWN

Meet Bruce Wood. The brewery chef at Beau’s has big plans for the summer patio, which opens for business on the Victoria Day long weekend.

Never content to rest on their laurels, Beau’s has big plans for the summer patio at its Vankleek Hill base. The 50-seat patio opens for the season on the May long weekend (May 16-18) and will host lunches on Saturdays and Sundays (and possibly Fridays) all summer long. Brewery chef Bruce Wood, who joined Beau’s last September, has been hard at work all spring planning a short locally inspired menu whose ingredients pair well with the latest Beau’s offerings.

Steve Beauchesne and Bruce Wood

Steve Beauchesne and Bruce Wood

Summer’s just around the corner. What are you working on today?
Pairings. We keep a detailed flavour profile for every beer that Beau’s releases. Today, I’m working on food pairings — so what goes well with the beer. I tasted two new summer beers — Wag the Wolf, which is a wheat beer, and Festivale, which is our summer beer.

When I tasted the Festivale, I thought about lemon curd, and almond pastry, and duck breast and things like that. When I taste a beer, I try to think of a few mains and a few desserts that will pair well with it. And a cheese — every beer will have a favourite cheese that will pair perfectly with it.label-wag-the-wolf-1024x1024

Tell me about the Beau’s summer patio.
In the past, Beau’s used to have different food vendors come in each week to make food for visitors. Now that I’m here as brewery chef, I have created a patio menu for the summer. And the patio, itself, is going to be lovely. You can come for lunch and beer on Saturday and Sunday. We’re also considering opening the patio on Fridays because so many people head out early.

How big is the patio?
It seats around 50, with picnic tables. There are benches around the edges where you can sit and enjoy a beer. The tasting room is inside the brewery and the patio outside. You can take your beer outside on sunny days to enjoy it in the sun.

What’s on the menu?
It’s very summery. There will always be some kind of interesting sandwich — maybe a brined jerk breast chicken sandwich or a sausage from one of the local butchers or a pulled pork. It will be on a roll made by Natali [Harea] from Nat’s Bread, who makes fabulous bread. That will always be served with a nice coleslaw as well as the condiments and garnishes I’m working on.

There will also be a lovely charcuterie and cheese board and a dip platter that will have things like homemade feta spread, tzatziki, hummus, olives, and other spreads. And a substantial salad, with a vegetarian or meat option, so you can top it with, say, smoked tofu or with whatever protein we’re making for the sandwich — so maybe that jerk chicken breast if that’s the sandwich on that particular week.

Of course, everything will be paired with beer!

Tell me about your guests.
It’s interesting the different ways people enjoy the patio. There are people who come out from Ottawa for a few hours. Then there are visitors who stop in on their way to and from Montreal for a beer or a beer and a bite to eat. Last year, I noticed that there were packs of cyclists coming by. They’d arrive with their bikes on their cars, go for an extended ride, then come back to Beau’s for beer and lunch before they drove home. Very cool.

So you’ve been at Beau’s for just over six months in. Liking it so far?
Loving it! There are so many facets to this job and that makes it really fun. It’s not just about great beer and yummy food, I like that there’s a strong message of sustainability and responsibility that runs through every decision that gets made here.

 

 

 

 

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Judge Chef Michael Howell

Last week, Chef Michael Howell (of Devour Film Food Festival, among other things) stopped by our office with award-winning cheese from the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. We get a lot of requests for desk-side meetings and such, and most of the time we have to say no, we’re busy. And this Monday we were indeed busy … but it’s hard to say no to award-winning Canadian cheese!

The tasting served as an excellent introduction to the awards, which celebrated their ninth anniversary this year. Chef Howell was an entertaining and informative host, setting up a beautiful spread (complete with grapes and nuts) in our boardroom. It was afternoon, so we cracked some wine, and opened our minds (and our mouths) to experience the wonders of Canadian cheese.

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Chef Howell and his team assembled a beautiful and delicious array of award-winning Canadian cheese

 

In addition to learning that “cheese should taste like what the cow ate” and that aged Gouda is an excellent stand-in for parmesan, our St. Joseph Media team gained a better appreciation of the cheese making world. Personally, I’m already looking outside the standard grocery store options and checking labels for MMI/MMS acronyms — keep reading for Chef Howell’s take on these and other nuggets of knowledge from the cheese industry.

 

Ottawa Mag: I understand you were a judge for the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix awards. How much cheese did you eat?
Michael Howell:
The jury of 11 tasted 268 cheeses over the course of two days in Montreal in February. We were put into two judging groups of five each, overseen by Phil Belanger (jury chair since 1998) who chaperoned us through the process. Each group tasted 150 cheeses to determine the finalists and then we retested the final 27 category champions multiple times to determine the grand champion.

Chef Howell judging what looks to be the Fresh Pasta Filata entries at the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix awards in Montreal earlier this year.

Chef Howell judging what looks to be the Fresh Pasta Filata entries at the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix awards in Montreal earlier this year.

OM: Do you have a favourite category?
MH:
I am partial to the smoked cheeses and the Blues. As a judge who is a chef, I like big, bold assertive flavours, that kick you and say “I am delicious.”

OM: What category/categories change the most from year to year? 
MH: The ‘cheeses with particulates’ (flavourings) seem to vary the most from year to year. Think horseradish flavoured cheeses, cheese with green peppercorns, etc.. Cheese makers are taking bolder and sometimes crazier choices with what they are adding to the cheese to make a unique product.

OM: How did you cleanse your palate between tastings?
MH: For me, a small piece of fresh baguette, followed by a swish of sparkling water does the trick to get me ready for the next cheese. The bread is like a sponge and the water like a refreshing bit of cleansing.

We were particularly proud of the 5-year-old cheddar from local cheese maker St. Albert, which was a finalist in the Aged Cheddar (More Than 3 Years) category

We were particularly proud of the 5-year-old cheddar from local cheese maker St. Albert, which was a finalist in the Aged Cheddar (More Than 3 Years) category

OM: How have the awards changed since they started nine years ago? Do you have anything special planned for the 10th anniversary?
The Canadian Cheese Grand Prix competition takes place every two years.  I‘ve only been on the jury for three editions so I can’t speak to the early days. I can atest to the calibre of cheeses made from 100 percent Canadian milk has increased every edition that I have been a part of, and the sheer number of entries indicates a willingness to make more adventurous cheeses across Canada; this indicates that cheesemaking is growing in Canada. The Dairy Farmers of Canada actually organize the competition and the gala. It’s been a wonderful experience so far and I assume that they will make it even more spectacular in 2017.

OM: Can you tell me about the upcoming changes that we will be seeing on cheese labels? What does it mean for the cheese lovers? What does it mean for cheese makers?
MH:
This question should be directed to the producers of cheese and the Dairy Farmers of Canada. I know that the winners and category champions all receive marketing materials to celebrate their victories at the grand prix, thus making then stand out all that much more at the cheese retail level. Look for the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix label and the little blue cow that indicates the product is made with 100 percent Canadian milk.

OM: What would you say to someone who says that they only buy inexpensive grocery store cheese? What’s the difference? What are they missing?
MH:
It’s important for people who buy cheese and are actually thinking about the impact of what they buy to remember that they are supporting Canada’s dairy farmers when they purchase cheeses that are made with 100 percent Canadian cow’s milk. People should be aware that when they buy some of the grocery cheeses, that they are often made with Modified Milk  Ingredients (MMI) and or Modified Milk Solids (MMS), of which most of the production of these additives are from outside Canada. This takes away the art of  cheese making in Canada. Eating a little bit less quantity of a quality product is what we all should be striving for — more flavour, more passion, less mass produced product, more support for cheese making excellence in quality products made in our own country.

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Great British Pasty & Pie Co.

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Grant. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Matt Grant of The Great British Pastry Company. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

He was quite right. I went home and Googled it. The Cornish Pasty, like Champagne or Parmigiano-Reggiano, has its own special designation, protected by the European Union as a special regional food. I hadn’t really believed him, but there it was.

“I didn’t much like pasties growing up,”  Matt Grant, owner of The Great British Pasty Company also told me. “They were made with minced meat, you see, not cubed steak like they’re supposed to be.”

But he likes them now. At least the ones he’s making. I like them too, particularly after learning more about their storied history.

Created out of necessity by thirteenth century Cornwall tin miners (or, more likely, by their wives) who needed hand-held lunch on-the-go for their deep dark work. And so the pasty was born. Essentially leftovers — cuts of meat, onion, potato, swedes (rutabagas) — wrapped up in a pastry casing that served as both container and handle.

Traditional British pastries are bought frozen and cooked for about 20 minutes. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Traditional British pasties are bought frozen and cooked for about 20 minutes. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Grant’s gone beyond the traditional Cornish Pasty, taking delicious liberties, making Steak and Guinness pasties (from his mum’s recipe), Sophie’s Cottage Pasties (Sophie’s his sister), and Pulled Pork pasties, which are particularly good. He even has a sweet apple pasty, though I didn’t try it.

“There’s no rubbish in our stuff,” he tells me. The vegetables come from Needham’s Market Garden, the meat is Alberta’s finest, the pastry is his mum’s secret recipe.

The Great British Pasty & Pie Co truck was parked at The Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Lansdowne Park this past Sunday. You buy the pasties frozen and bake them off at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Or order them direct from Grant, 613-222-5121

 

 

CITY BITES INSIDER: Q&A with Chef Kirk Morrison of Restaurant 18 

This week, CITY BITES INSIDER welcomes guest blogger Marc Bazinet, an Ottawa-based food blogger who writes about restaurants, cookbooks, and food products.

After a company shake-up last fall, Restaurant 18 installed Kirk Morrison as its chef de cuisine. At the helm of one of the top restaurants in the city, Morrison showcases menus that display an impressive set of skills. Marc Bazinet aka Cool Food Dude, caught up with Morrison to discuss his culinary roots, his experience feeding hungry Olympians, and his stint as a butcher.

Chef Kirk Morrison of Restaurant 18

Chef Kirk Morrison of Restaurant 18

Marc Bazinet: Do you come from a family of foodies?
Kirk Morrison: My dad was actually a doctor, but he was an amazing home cook. He always had me on the counter when I was a kid— making breakfast or helping with dinner parties. I acquired a respect and passion for food at a very young age.

MB: What did you do after cooking school?
KM: I worked at the Four Seasons in Yorkville. I trained under Lynn Crawford who was the executive chef there at the time. I think I was 19 in this massive kitchen with all these talented people and this famous executive chef.

After my stage, I left Toronto to go to Vancouver. I bounced around and eventually landed at the official caterer for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. We worked with the IOC on everything, from building the cafeterias around the Olympic venues, to planning how we were going to feed the athletes and spectators and staff. During the Olympics, our kitchen was open 24-hours. Just straight open. It was crazy bananas.

MB: Where did you go after your Olympic experience?
KM: I stumbled upon a restaurant in Vancouver that had let their chef go. All the cooks left with him. It was just myself and a woman (who would later become my wife). We rebuilt the menu and relaunched the restaurant. I later became the executive chef and managed that for about three years. And then I got really tired of cooking.

MB: Was it a burnout?
KM: It was a hard burnout. I’d been working since I was about 17- or 18-years-old, and I was 28 at this point, and I had two kids and everything that comes with that. So I went to be butcher for a year. Looking back at that opportunity…priceless.

MB: After a year, did you miss cooking?
KM: I did, yeah. But we had to relocate outside of Vancouver to be able to afford our growing family, and we decided it was time to move. I did some research and the food scene here in Ottawa seemed to be going in an upward direction.

MB: How did the opportunity at Restaurant 18 come about?
KM: I walked into Sidedoor and Chef Johnny (executive chef Jonathan Korecki) came out. I had watched Top Chef, and I was like “Ah, you were on TV.” And he was like, “Yeah, that was me.” “Cool. So I need a job. He looked at my resume and said, “I need to hire somebody, when can you start?” I worked with Chef Johnny for about a month, and then the chef at [Restaurant]18 decided to move on. There was some restructuring in the company where the ownership had invited Johnny to be executive chef of the whole company, and he wanted to slot me in the chef de cuisine spot up here [Restaurant 18]. And it’s been good ever since.

MB: So how do you cook for a city of politicians and public servants?
KM: The magic is when somebody comes into your restaurant, sees something on the menu that they wouldn’t necessarily order all the time, orders it, eats it, and loves it. I am going to offer them something different from what they think they want.

MB: What are some of your favourite recipes from the Restaurant 18 menu?
KM: We make these little salt cod brandade fritters. So you have this little potato bomb on this dish, which is basically a salt cod donut wrapped in crispy potato strings. It has been the best received out of any dish on our menu.

MB: Do you follow food trends?
KM: Trends are one thing, but jumping on a bandwagon, I don’t think, is going to help push your creativity in any direction. As a city, we need to have a super diverse food scene to be able to thrive and push creative food forward. We all end up with a much richer food community than if everything was just the same.

MB: Do you cook at home?
KM: Yes, I love cooking at home. And my wife is also a chef. We always, on weekends, cook together. A large part of our home-life is spent in the kitchen.

MB: Are your kids too young to be interested in food?
KM: Oh no. With our oldest, he’s got his own little chair that he pulls up next to the counter. He seasons things, stirs pasta, does all that stuff. Once we were rushing to feed the kids. We made them pasta and we didn’t season it, and he pushed it away and said, “You didn’t put any salt on this.” We looked at each other like, “Did he just do that?”

MB: What do you do with your time outside of work?
KM: Usually something food-centric. When we first moved here, my wife and I would pack up the kids on my days off and go to the ByWard Market and walk around the stalls and teach the kids about the different vegetables.

MB: Food is obviously a passion. You chose the right line of work.
KM: It’s funny. It’s the one thing that I liked, and the one thing I was ever good at, and people have decided to pay me money to do it. I always have a little giggle to myself. It’s funny.

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