KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Battling conflicts-of-interest PLUS a tantalizing shrimp Sambuca recipe

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.


—   I hate English class, says Gavin, looking up from his laptop across the kitchen table. How am I supposed to know what this dopey story means? It’s just an old story.

—   Whatcha got there? asks Luc, putting down his New Yorker.

—   A good man is hard to find, by Flannery O’Connor.

—   That’s a great story, says Luc, you must have liked reading it.

—   Yeah, it’s pretty cool, I mean for something written fifty years ago.

kitchen-chronicles—   Today, they’d murder all the family members right in front of the grandmother, says Luc.

—   But that’s not what I’m supposed to write about. Mrs. Lansing wants five-hundred words on an underlying theme. How am I supposed to do that?

—   Think about the bigger story, buddy, says Luc. There’s the story she tells, about the family out for a drive and they all get shot by these outlaws. What’s that say about our society?

—   It’s dangerous?

—   Yeah. And think about the grandmother; she’s old, she represents an olden time.

—   Yeah, she talks about how they could only drive thirty miles in a whole day. And she wants to go back to look at the dopey plantation and that’s why everyone gets killed.

—   Write about that, Gavin, how you can’t go back. Mrs. L will lap it up.

—   Good one, Dad.

Fiona bangs through the screen door.

—   Hey, aren’t you the studious lot!

Luc pecks her on the cheek. Fiona kisses the top of Gavin’s head.

—   So how was the cocktail party? asks Luc.

—   Great food: shrimp in Sambuca.* I was lurking by the kitchen door, waiting for the servers to come out. Yum. The French consulate always has the best food.

—   I won’t ask if you need anything to eat.

—   I’m going upstairs to finish this, says Gavin.

—   I’ll be up in a bit, says Fiona. I just need to talk to your dad.

—   Something up, Fee?

—   Lena’s driving me mad. She’s supposed to look after assigning the front-end stuff, but the rule is she has to clear the topic and reporter with me first. So we agreed to do this piece on a new 100-mile catering business and I suggested a few writers, but then she goes out and asks one of her trust-fund buddies to do it. Meanwhile, I’d forgotten all about it.

—   As if you have nothing else to do, says Luc.

—   So the piece comes in this morning and it turns out I know the trust-fund babe. She is friends with the guy who runs the catering business. It’s a huge conflict of interest. There’s no way she can write an objective piece. Never mind that she’s in no way qualified to write the piece. It was crap. I asked Lena why she hadn’t consulted me about the writer, and she said she didn’t want to bother me. Then when I told her about the conflict and she had the gall to pretend she didn’t know.

—   Maybe she didn’t, says Luc.

—   Unlikely. I mean she probably heard about the business from her friend in the first place: My friend started this business, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure she was lying through her teeth. Regardless, she broke protocol by assigning without consulting with me first.

—   It’s disrespectful, says Luc. Of you, and of the rules.

—   Too right, says Fiona, angrily.

—   That joint’s like Peyton Place. So what did you do?

IMG_4330—   I phoned the writer and apologized for the misunderstanding, but explained about the conflict-of-interest. She didn’t even get it, said she didn’t see what the problem was. “It’s not like it’s an investigative piece,” she said. I was speechless. I just told her we’d pay a kill-fee of fifty percent, which is thirty over what we usually pay, but since it was totally Lena’s fault….

—   And what did you say to Lena?

—   I told her she had to write the replacement story, which means she has to work tomorrow, Saturday. She was really peeved, but it’s her own fault. Then I went to Richard.

—   Oh ho, the evil publisher. And what did he have to say about the debacle?

Fiona smiles.

—   Oh, you know Richard. I told him I thought Lena had potentially put the magazine’s reputation at risk, and he just shrugs. He drives me nuts.

—   See, they are having an affair.

—   Who knows. But in this case, I don’t think he was siding with her per se. I think he genuinely doesn’t understand the importance of editorial autonomy. He always wants to place ads next to articles that mention the product or store or whatever. It’s bad enough that he even knows what we’re writing about. The firewall is already full of holes. I have to fight to retain what little independence I have. I got really angry with him over this one; told him I was going to officially reprimand Lena. You know, three strikes and you’re out.

—   Three warnings, so this is the first?

—   Yeah, I’ll do it on Monday. Richard said I could if I really felt it was warranted. He made me feel like I was over-reacting, even though I’m not.

—   Tant mieux.** You should be celebrating, Fee. Only two more screw-ups and Lena’s outta there.

—   True! Trust you to see the silver lining.

—   Hey, can you go see how Gavin’s doing on his English essay? I tried to help him, but that’s more your thing.

—   Sure, she says, rising. Thanks for listening to my blather.

—   No problem, love. I’ll take my bonus later, he says, winking at her.

—   You’re such a cornball, she says grinning.

*Shrimp Sambuca

1 pound large, raw, peeled shrimp, thawed if frozen
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 ounces sambuca liqueur

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter, sauté garlic, add cream. Mix well. (Can store in fridge for 2 hours.)
  2. Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in a heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté shrimp until it turns pink.
  3. Add sambuca and flambé (if open flame, remove from heat).
  4. Reduce heat immediately and add the butter, garlic and cream mixture.
  5. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and serve immediately.

** Means so much the better.

QUEST: Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate

This feature appears in Ottawa Magazine’s April 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe to the print or digital versions.


Chocolate and Hazelnut Brick Toast from My Sweet Tea (Photo: Giulia Doyle)

Ahh, chocolate — it melts on your tongue, so rich and so smooth. These sweet, deep flavours soothe our hearts. Surely the food of the gods, no?

Of course, before chocolate becomes chocolate, you must pulverize your cacao beans; assess the correct ratio of cocoa powder to cocoa butter; grind the sugar and refine the paste, kneading it to a smooth consistency. The chocolate has to feel just so. Never mind the growing of the bean; cutting the huge pod from its stem with a machete; removing the husk; fermenting, drying, roasting, and finally polishing the fruit. Yes, it’s time-consuming and persnickety work.

And after all that, you pop said chocolate into your mouth. Takes but six seconds to experience all textures, all flavours, at which point those happy brain chemicals of yours are saying, “Please, sir, I want some more!”

Here we look at three Ottawa kitchens offering up plates full of chocolate goodness.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Brick Toast
Donovan Chong, marketing director at My Sweet Tea, ponders the likely origins of Asian brick toast. He calls up the days of British colonization when Hong Kong people got a taste of French toast. “And they wondered, how did those crazy Westerners do it? Hong Kongers weren’t sure — and so they improvised.” My Sweet Tea has a way with their brick toast: they lightly toast and score a thick slice of Asian milk bread. Then they slather chocolate hazelnut cream over the bread so that all the goodness seeps in. Bananas optional. As one customer proclaimed after just one bite: “My new favourite dessert!” $4.50.
My Sweet Tea, 824 Somerset St. W., 613-695-6543,

Mini Chocolate Bundt Cake
The classic chocolate cake. Tracey Black says this recipe dates back to when her take-home shop and eatery, Epicuria, opened 23 years ago. The tiny Bundt shape, however, was Isabelle Leroux’s brilliant idea — she’s the pastry chef. She is also the one who came up with the fudge-like ganache icing slyly licking the sides. The cake itself is dark, moist, and light. Not a lie — this chocolate number has everything going for it. No wonder it’s the most popular dessert in the house. $4.25.
Epicuria, 357 St. Laurent Blvd., 613-745-7356,

Chocolate Barfi
“When I opened this shop [in 2005], I thought only Indians would come, but Canadians eat more sweets than Indians,” says Rakesh Ahluwalia, owner of Indian Express. He’s in the kitchen now at his humungous wok, stirring the two ingredients — milk and chocolate — to make a chocolate version of the Indian sweet called barfi. The trick is to keep at this until the mixture has condensed — a very long time. What’s produced is a confection that is chewy and dense, akin to Western fudge (but better). One warning, though: this buttery chocolate concoction is decidedly addictive! $8.99/lb.
Indian Express Food & Sweets, 1000 Somerset St. W., 613-761-6000,

LUNCH PICK: Erling’s Variety takes name change in stride



From Earl’s Variety to Erling’s Variety, the process of changing names takes some time (Photo: Anne DesBrisay)

The name on the picture window announces this new Glebe arrival as “Erling’s.” But the sign above the bar reads “Earl’s.” So does the website.

Once the page is open, the name change is explained: restaurant chain Earls (with roots in western Canada) came a-calling. Lawyers representing Earls suggested to this little Glebe whippersnapper (in so uncertain terms) that the name was Not On. And if it wasn’t changed tout de suite, there would be trouble with a capital T. So they renamed Earl’s Variety to Erling’s Variety. Owner Liam Vainola’s grandfather’s nickname was Earl, but his real name was Erling. A much more distinguished moniker anyway…

But it can’t be cheap to change a brand. There’s paperwork, no doubt, and the cost of physical and electronic re-signage. But the unexpected gift of a great David and Goliath tale — small new restaurant taken to task by 64-outlet strong North American restaurant chain for name calling — picked up in the media and widely published, had to have been pretty sweet. And that’s what happened to Erling’s Variety, tucked out of sight off Bank Street in the northern bit of the Glebe.

You might say David’s pebble still hit the target, if the target is free publicity.


Erling’s Variety creates a great rendition of butternut squash soup (Photo: Anne DesBrisay)

I dropped in for lunch last week. The menu’s a bit dull — much of the same sort of fare you find in lots of places, including ye old beet salad with goat cheese and arugula. I sat at the the bar and had a bowl of soup and a meatball sub. Sure, it was the ubiquitous butternut squash on offer, but it was a great rendition, with roasted pears, pureed to smooth, perfumed with cinnamon and nutmeg and shot through with chili heat. A pretty swirl of crème fraîche on the surface, a drizzle of oil. Nothing to make the heart go pitter patter, but a well-executed version of a typically over-executed soup.

Meatball sub next, with fries and salad. So nice when that’s an option. Great fries, nice salad, good meatball sub — flavourful, fresh. Not much else to say. I enjoyed my lunch at the new Erling’s Variety, and I liked very much the handsome room. But here’s hoping the spring menu is a bit more dynamic. I’m looking forward to returning to check it out.

Soup, $8; sub with fries and salad, $15

Erling’s Variety, 225 Strathcona Ave., 613-231-8484, (for now)

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: The pain of those left behind PLUS Salade Niҫoise for a gang

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.

The Cyclamen

Fiona hums lightly as she washes the wooden salad bowl* from dinner. She loves this time of day: Gavin is upstairs doing his homework, Luc is answering email and she gets time to herself after a long day. Luc thinks they should get a dishwasher, but she likes washing dishes. It’s Zen-like. She zones out and gets into the rhythm of it. Her reverie is interrupted by a tap at the door. Trish peers through the back window, giving a little wave; Fiona throws the bolt.

—   Fee, sorry I didn’t call first, but the line was busy so I just jumped into the car…

Tears well up in her eyes and she falls into Fiona’s arms.

—   Trish! What’s happened? Here sit down.

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TASTING NOTES: Best organic and biodynamic wines at the LCBO


There are about 260,000 hectares of biodynamically farmed vineyards in the world today — that’s roughly the area of post-amalgamation Ottawa. That is a mere sliver as a percentage of the total acreage under vine, but it has more than doubled in the past 10 years and is expected to double or triple again in the next decade. And not just because it feels good to be green, but because wine quality is better.

About 95 percent of the world’s organic vineyards are in Europe, with most in the sunnier, drier climates of Spain, southern France, and Italy, where lack of moisture reduces the need to use synthetic herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. Even in cooler, wetter areas like Germany, the increase has more than doubled in a decade, with seven percent of its vineyards now green. And the movement is underway here in Ontario too.

Forgoing the use of fertilizers and other synthetic applications is the basic definition of organic grape-growing. Biodynamic viticulture goes deeper — it builds a microclimate teeming with life, including the countless organisms in the soil and above ground. The theory is that this environment creates stronger vines that are better able to protect themselves from disease pressures. It’s an argument similar to the one regarding our own health — do you want to pop pills to cure every ill or prevent ills by living well?

The historic problem with organic wine is a public perception that quality sucks, i.e., that there are too many oxidized and volatile, sour wines. That is rapidly changing as winemakers become more experienced. I recently spent a morning at Germany’s Geisenheim University listening to Randolf Kauer, Europe’s only professor of organic viticulture.

“The quality argument against organics is now over,” Kauer stated bluntly. “In fact, producers are converting to improve quality.”

Indeed they are. I spent five days tasting organic and biodynamic wines in Germany and was blown away by the continuous demonstration of excellent wines that I would rate over 90 points. The wines have notable energy, with fine natural balance and depth of flavour, and — most of all — they spoke clearly of the various microclimate and soil structures in which the vines were grown.

Few of those wines I tasted are available in Canada, but here are examples of very good organic/biodynamic wines from around the world.

Southbrook 2010 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon
$22.95/ Niagara-on-the-Lake/ 89 Points
Several Niagara wineries are organic to some degree (Malivoire, Le Clos Jordanne, Tawse, and Hidden Bench), but Southbrook is certified as a biodynamic operation by Demeter, the leading international certifying body. This is a mid-weight, quite smooth, and mellow red from a warm vintage, so it’s drinking quite well, with youthful floral bloom, raspberry fruit, background oak, and a touch of earth and tobacco. The finish is dry, warm, and slightly tannic. Best 2014 to 2016. Vintages 193573.

Bonterra 2010 Merlot
$19.95/ California/ 89 Points
Bonterra pioneered organic winemaking from its base in Mendocino, becoming the number one selling brand of organic wines in California and proving to many others that it can be done. This authentic, balanced, mid-weight merlot features raspberry/sweet plum plus tobacco, mild chocolate, and spice complexities. It is medium-weight and fairly supple, and the length is very good. Vintages 984724.

Paxton 2011 MV Shiraz
$17.95/ South Australia/ 90 Points
Paxton was one of the early adopters of biodynamic viticulture in Australia. This not only is a testament to the quality that can be achieved, but it also proves organic wine need not be very expensive. This is rich, dense, and smooth, with a very ripe nose of dark cherry, chocolate, and mint. It’s full-bodied, even, and rich, with a dry, chalky finish. Vintages 327403.

Quartz Reef 2010 Pinot Noir
$36.25/ Central Otago, New Zealand/ 91 Points
Austrian Rudi Bauer is the pioneer of biodynamics in this new pinot noir area on the South Island. This is very elegant, layered, and deep. The nose shows ripe black cherry, fresh herbs, and oak sweetness and warmth. Excellent length. Vintages 599324.

Castello Di Volpaia 2010 Chianti Classico
$24.95/ Tuscany, Italy/ 90 Points
Centred on an 11th-century castle high on a hilltop, Volpaia is all about authenticity, including its organically tended sangiovese vineyards. This is a mid-weight, dense, tightly wound, and tannic sangiovese for the cellar, with complex if subdued notes of leather, earth, and ripe currant/sun-dried tomato fruit, as well as fresh basil/tarragon. Very good to excellent length. Best 2015 to 2019. Vintages 953828.Gutsriesling_vorne

Wittman 2011 Riesling Trocken
$20.95/ Rheinhessen, Germany/ 90 Points
Wittman is one of several young wineries leading Germany’s largest wine region back to respectability through biodynamics — not easy in a cool, often wet area but perhaps getting easier thanks to global warming. This is a lean, dry, chalk-soil-grown riesling reminiscent of many in Niagara, with green apple, citrus, and stony flavours.  Vintages 320366.

Zind-Humbrecht 2010 Riesling Turckheim
$27.95/ Alsace, France/ 91 Points
Famous for some of the most opulent wines of Alsace, Zind-Humbrecht is also a leader of the biodynamic movement in the region.  This dry riesling has splendid rich aromas of honey, apricot, petrol, and spice that reminded me of banana bread. It’s spry and elegant, with all kinds of mouth-watering acidity, even a touch of spritz. Excellent focus and length. Vintages 31039.

Tawse 2011 Quarry Road Chardonnay
$34.95/ Niagara Peninsula/ 91 Points
Inspired by biodynamic producers in Burgundy, Moray Tawse began converting vineyards to this method one by one. Quarry Road atop the Niagara Escarpment is a cooler site producing taut, firm, mineral-driven chardonnay not unlike some of the best from Burgundy. The cool 2011 vintage has built in even more tautness. Look for pear, citrus, and toasty aromas and flavours, but give it a year or two in the cellar. Vintages 111989.

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Wellington Gastropub continues its winning ways with a daily menu of rich offerings


Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Cobia fish served sashimi style with slow roasted tomatoes and a corn relish. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

I first wrote about ‘The Wellie’ in 2006 when the restaurant was pretty new and the neighbours were either scratching a head or tripping over the surname ‘Gastropub.’

Eight years later, this pub with good grub (hence ‘gastropub’ based on the UK term for these sorts of places) seems to be going strong. For one thing, it’s packed at my every visit.

And for another, seems to be delving into interesting new projects — one of which is brewing beer.

On offer one night, under the ‘Stock Pot Ales’ banner, was the Eddie Double D IPA, a dark, frothy-headed beer served really cold. Once warmed up a bit its smell was full and malty, the taste bitter but with a pleasantly sweet linger. It went really well with the ribeye, and every guy in the place — there was an inordinately large number of guys — seemed to have ordered the combo.

My final visit I came alone. And the place was packed with groups of guys.

“I’ll put you on the quiet side,” my server suggested and I was led to the left, away from the main dining room, to where a smaller lounge area shares space with fewer tables. Two more foursomes of fellas there, but nothing I couldn’t handle. “Can I bring you today’s Globe and Mail?” I declined the offer, but it was a kind one, and thoughtful, and that sums up service here, led by the charming Shane Waldron.

The kitchen is helmed by co-owner Chris Deraiche. Deraiche opened The Wellington Gastropub with a commitment to changing its menu daily, and it carries on with that duty, which makes The Wellie something of a rare bird in this town. Not many places take on the creative freedom (and rigours) of a daily menu, or do so with as much success.

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KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Jacen struggles with the new reality PLUS hearty quinoa pilaf

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.

Luc dries the last pot and puts it away. Jacen’s due in ten minutes — they’re going to play pool. They usually go once or twice a year and meet up with some of their Portage du Fort buddies. Usually Georges comes too, but Luc isn’t ready to face him so he didn’t invite him. Give it time, he thinks. We both need time.

There’s a tap at the back door.

—   Hope you don’t mind me coming a bit early, says Jacen.

—   Hey, good to see you, Jay. Have a seat. Are you hungry? There’s some quinoa pilaf.*

—   I should eat, says Jacen. Maybe just a bit. Thanks. I wanted to talk before we met up with the guys. I’m not ready to tell them I’m positive, much less talk about the nitty-gritty.

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Chef Kyrn Stein creates sophisticated, accomplished dishes at Social



The duck with rutabaga purée is one of the highlights at Social (Photo: Anne DesBrisay)

Social has a new restaurant chef. Kyrn Stein is an Ottawa lad who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and gained experience in Toronto, including a couple of Jamie Kennedy’s places, the modernist (and now closed) Colborne Lane, and Mark McEwan’s ONE Restaurant where he was executive sous chef.

Stein has now come “home” to plump his CV further at Social — one of the capital city’s signature restaurants. He fills the gap created by long-time executive chef Matthew Carmichael (and restaurant chef Jordan Holley) when they left to pursue other projects, including Carmichael’s buzz-worthy restaurant El Camino on Elgin Street.

Social is a beauty. It always has been, still is. This restaurant/lounge is blessed with good bones, in a primo location, and aging well. Maybe the secret is change. Over the years of writing about it  — through its Derek Benitz era (remember him?), then René Rodriguez (now, Navarra), followed with Steve Mitton (Murray Street), Carmichael (El Camino and counting), Holley — it’s had some ups and downs. At times Social has felt more like a hotspot nightclub than a serious restaurant. But not lately. And with these last few visits, even the choice and volume of the music suggest the kitchen is taking the dinner hours seriously.

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KITCHEN CHRONICLES: A bittersweet promotion for Fee, PLUS quick-as-a-wink chicken cacciatore

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.

Madame editor

Luc meticulously wipes mushrooms with a paper towel, then uses a paring knife to slice them up for his famous quick cacciatore* — well, famous according to Gavin, who is always clamouring for it. The aroma of the chicken simmering in tomato-balsamic sauce entices Luc’s nostrils; the sounds of Gotan Project fill his ears. He hums along, patently off-key, not caring, wondering if Fiona heard today about her promotion. She had a meeting with the publisher at one, but they’d agreed she’d wait until she got home to tell Luc what happened. Phone news makes the in-person announcement anticlimactic. He said he wanted to be able to congratulate her properly.

—   Hi honey! Fiona says, pulling the door closed behind her.

Luc wipes his hands on a tea towel and kisses her.

—   So? Shall I pop the bubbly? he asks.

IMG_4372—   Yes, no. Well, yes, I guess.

—   You got it?

—   YES! You’re looking at the new editor-in-chief of City Life. I’ll spend the next month training with Joan, then she’s gone and I’m in.

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CAPITAL PINT: Clocktower Brew Pub, Ellis Valentine, and bubble gum beer

Capital Pint by Travis Persaud is published regularly at Follow Travis on twitter @tpersaud.


Former Montreal Expos player Ellis Valentine visits The Clocktower Brew Pub

We’re just a few days away from opening day of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, and The Clocktower Brew Pub is getting in on the action.

Tonight, The Clocktower in Westboro hosts Ellis Valentine — former Montreal Expos right fielder and all-star — who’s in town to help raise funds for the Miracle League of Ottawa ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays’ two exhibition games in Montreal this weekend. And they’ve created a beer in his honour.

Clocktower brewmaster Patrick Fiori brewed Valentine 17 Ball Park Beer for the occasion. He wanted it to have a bubble gum flavour, but wasn’t sure if a Belgian-style beer would produce the profile he desired. So, instead, he bought a ton of Hubba Bubba gum to include in the brew. The result, Fiori says, is a beer that carries that signature gum flavour with pride.

Valentine 17 Ball Park Beer launches tonight at The Clocktower in Westboro during Valentine’s special appearance from 6 to 9 p.m. A portion of all proceeds will support the Miracle League of Ottawa. The beer will be tapped on March 28 at all other Clocktower locations.