As part of our Think Global, Eat Local feature, we bring you the tastes of the Americas
Eat your veggies
By Amélie Crosson
The Chinatown location suggests it, as does the name, but Zen Kitchen is not an Asian-food restaurant; it is more of an Asian-inspired whole-foods restaurant — a place where goodness, deliciousness, sustainability, and healthy converge on the tongue with unique style. Owners Caroline Ishii and David Loan came into the restaurant business mid-life: she, a successful consultant in communications and marketing; he, a senior political assistant on Parliament Hill. The loss to the world of communications, marketing, and politics is certainly Ottawa’s culinary gain. Since opening in 2009, the vegan Zen Kitchen has become a go-to restaurant not only for diners who want to avoid animal products but for foodies who simply love to eat well.
Ishii credits her stellar reviews and happy customers to her training at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City, where a teacher said, “If you can make a bean taste good, you can make anything taste good.” And that she does. Still, the signature ingredient at Zen Kitchen is not the bean, but seitan, a wheat-gluten-based vegetable protein that is homemade and can be seasoned for Asian, Mexican, Italian, or any other kind of cuisine. Seitan, it turns out, is a temple food with a long history of being served in monasteries in Japan and China.
At the same time as they make vegan cool, Zen Kitchen is also taking sustainability to new levels. The business plan is “holistic,” which means composting and recycling everything (at a significant cost); making seltzer water in-house, thereby eschewing easy profits on bottled water; offering employees extended medical and dental benefits; and supporting local farmers, tradesmen, and artists. Let the word spread.
Ishii says her next goal is to create and serve up a brunch on Sundays, while Loan is busy thinking up ways to shine the spotlight on local music, coming up with playlists featuring Ottawa and Gatineau artists.
634 Somerset St. W., 613-233-6404, www.zenkitchen.ca