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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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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Read the full Q&A on Cool Food Dude

 

CITY BITES INSIDER: Connor McQuay to head up 150-seat Italian resto in Gatineau’s Hilton

By SARAH BROWN

At the end of March, Back Lane Café’s Connor McQuay announced his departure after two years as chef in charge. The 28-year-old’s new gig? Executive chef at DoubleTree by Hilton in Gatineau. He admits it’s going to be a steep learning curve, going from running a 40-seat café to launching a new, 150-seat Italian restaurant, as well as managing the hotel’s second restaurant and banquet facilities. As McQuay hustled to finalize the menu at Sopranos ahead of its May opening, Ottawa Magazine caught up with him just long enough to discuss his new direction.

Connor McQuay

Connor McQuay in the Back Lane Café kitchen

 

City Bites: How did this new job come about?

Connor McQuay: The owner of the hotel, Pierre Heafey, was a regular at Back Lane and got to know me and my cooking. He wanted to open an Italian restaurant at the Hilton. At some point Pierre asked George [Monsour, owner of Back Lane] if he knew of a chef who was talented enough to run his hotel operation and run a restaurant at the same time. That’s when my name got put in the mix. It all happened so quickly. I went into work one day this spring and George said ‘I think I should let you go and do this.’ Within a week I had a job offer from the Hilton. A week after that I was moving into this new adventure.

The Doubletree by Hilton in Gatineau

The Doubletree by Hilton in Gatineau

CB: You previously worked with Chef Michael Blackie in a large operation at the NAC. What did you learn from him?
CM: I still consider Michael Blackie and John Morris to be mentors. When I was going in for the interview for the Hilton job, Michael was the first person I called. I asked him what I was getting myself into and for advice on how to sell myself because as an executive chef I have never been in such a big company with so many different venues.

CB: What will you be running?
CM: There will be the new 150-seat Italian restaurant, Sopranos, which opens May 1 if all goes according to plan, as well as the casual Bistronome. And banquets and weddings. Oh, and the golf course. It’s a big jump from Back Lane Café!

CB: So it’s a huge learning curve.
CM: It is. But being the age I am — 28 — I see this as a stepping stone. Michael Blackie told me that opportunities in this industry are big stepping stones — it’s hardly ever a gradual climb. You get to one spot and you plateau there for a bit and then a big opportunity comes your way and you have to decide whether to go for it.

CB: What have your first couple of weeks been like?
CM: I’ve been figuring out staffing. Opening up Sopranos is top of my agenda. But I also have to get my head wrapped around banquets and we already have 30-odd summer weddings booked. It’s going to be a pretty big staff!

I’ve also been going full speed contacting suppliers — figuring out who I want to use and in which direction I want to take the food.

CB: Anything you can tell us about the menu at Sopranos?
CM: My background is Canadian-Irish-Italian so I’m really having fun. There are definitely ideas from Back Lane coming this way. We’ll be making our fresh pizza dough inhouse — I’ve got six different pizzas on the menu. Right now, I’m working on 15 different pasta recipes. Gnocchi will be definitely be made inhouse. And other pasta. The menu will be quite large. It’s hard to write a small Italian menu!

It’s broken down like a typical Italian menu: antipasto, then risotto, then pizzas, then pasta, then fish and meat dishes and, finally, dessert.

CB: What’s the price point?
CM: Pretty medium, especially the pizzas and pastas. The most expensive item is the rib-eye steak and that’s $28. We’re looking at $9-$14 for antipasto and $13-$22 for pizza, pasta, and risotto.

CB: Are you looking beyond the hotel crowd with Sopranos?
CM: Totally! Hotel guests alone aren’t enough to support a 150-seat restaurant. I want Sopranos to become a place where residents from Ottawa, Gatineau, and Aylmer come by for fresh, Italian food. I want Sopranos to be the Italian restaurant in the area.

CB: What are you most excited about?
CM: The opportunity for a broader audience to see me as a chef. It’s great to be able to put my food out there. Hopefully it opens even bigger doors for the future.

 

 

 

 

OPENING SOON! Former rapper Flip Kuma to launch Glebe restaurant Earl’s Variety

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Liam Vainola has teamed up with chef Jason Brault, formerly of Tapastree and the Granville Island Hotel in B.C., to launch their Glebe restaurant.

By Fateema Sayani

Six years ago, those who followed the local music scene were intrigued by a rapper by the name of Flip Kuma. He was a soot-voiced softie who had semi-weepy lyrics, but delivered them with a clipped vocal style that made him sound tough and real.

The MC released three albums by the age of 25 and had dreams of running a rap label. Never one to stay still stylistically, Flip Kuma did a 180 with his side project called Virgin Blonde Fantasy, where he sped up the BPM to produce “the gayest electro ever” à la Chromeo. His music made for some good nights at the clubs. Then music fans didn’t hear much from the man known as Liam Vainola.

Turns out, Vainola was tiring of the club scene and trying to impose some discipline on himself (the working title of his last album was The Underachiever’s Feast). So he dropped music and started working his way up in various restaurants around town. He learned kitchen skills and front-of-house management with stints at The Ritz, Carmen’s Veranda, 73 North, and The Fourth Avenue Wine Bar, all the while saving up to open his own place.

That dream turns into reality on November 1 when Vainola, 30, will open the doors of Earl’s Variety, a neighbourhood eatery located under the green awning on Strathcona Avenue in the Glebe.

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CLOSING: Castlegarth closes up shop as owners pursue new ventures

Get there while you can! It will come as a shock to many that Castlegarth’s Matthew and Jenn Brearley plan to close the doors on their restaurant at the end of September after 11 years operating the top-notch rural eatery at White Lake. While Matthew is headed to a new food project at St. Paul University, Jenn is launching a lunch catering company with friend Julie Harrison.

A photograph of Matthew Brearley at a sold-out 2012 CityBites event at the urban element to celebrate the release of the best-selling cookbook by the owners of Montreal's Joe Beef.

Matthew’s Plans
First it was U of O, which in October 2012 scored the first Première Moisson bakery outside Quebec. Now St. Paul University has jumped on the tasty brainfood bandwagon, signing a three-year deal with the urban element to supply its café and catering needs.

No more trucking food in from off-site, Café Urban boasts an on-site kitchen, headed up by three key chefs, including Matthew Brearley. Brearley teams up with Sean Shannon, who cooked at Castlegarth for the past six years, and Geneviève Corriveau, who has been mentored by John Taylor at Domus.

The move marks a new beginning for all three chefs — and a departure for the urban element, currently best known for cooking classes and private catered events at its Parkdale Avenue headquarters. Owner Carley Schelck has said she’s excited to branch out, introducing a model that, she hopes, will change the whole mindset about food quality in the campus setting.

Passing by St. Paul U.? You’re in luck. The gourmet café is open to the public for breakfast, lunch ($7-$9), and dinner ($8-$12). Takeout available. 223 Main St., 613-236-1393 ext. 2555. Matthew is also collaborating with Lanark County on developing a food hub — a marketing entity that would work with farmers to plan crop plantation, advertise their produce, and deliver to buyers (including, one assumes, St. Paul University).

This portrait of Matthew and Jenn was taken in 2010, when Castlegarth took top spot in Ottawa Magazine's annual "where to eat right now" edition. Photography by Christian Lalonde / Photolux

Jenn’s Plans
The company name is Spread, the tagline “coveted lunches delivered to you.” Jenn Brearely and Julie Harrison launch their catering company on October 1, delivering high-quality (and imaginative) lunches for offices and meetings.

Run from offices in Chinatown, the company charges a $20 delivery fee in central Ottawa and $30 outside the core. A quick sampling of the 8-item sandwich menu gives a sense of the thought that has gone into creating a fine luncheon: pastrami, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing; grilled steak, mozzarella, and chimichurri; roast paprika chicken with creamy dill, lemon, and honey coleslaw; and queso fresco, pickled jalapeños, poblano peppers, salsa rona, and cilantro. All sandwiches are made on Nat’s Bread.

The salad lineup includes the likes of cashew, lemon, and ginger coleslaw with toasted sesame seeds and cilantro; and German-style potato salad with bacon, dijon, white wine, and parsley. Homemade cookies, tarts, and crumbles round out the meal.

The couple say they’re looking forward to embracing new challenges — and working more regular hours, which will allow for more time with their kids.

Book Your Spot at Castlegarth
The restaurant, which will close for good on Friday, Sept. 27, is open for dinners from Wednesday to Sunday. The Brearleys are currently organizing a celebratory five-course dinner that will be served on each of the last three nights the restaurant is open (Sept. 25, 26, and 27). It will be based on the couple’s favourite dishes over the last 11 years.

Menu ($65 per person):

— Fois Gras Torchon with Summer Preserved Peaches
— Kudla Farms Egg Yolk Ravioli with Housemade Tesa & Fresh Herbs
— Grilled Mackerel with Squash Galette with Bloomfield Farms Arugula & Romesco
— Duck Breast with Cumin Spiced Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
— Gagan’s Apple Fritter, Chocolate Doughnut with Nectarine Glaze

 

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: Chef Jamie Stunt says goodbye to Oz Kafe and thanks Ottawa for the amazing ride

This afternoon, we received an email from Oz Kafe‘s chef Jamie Stunt, the wonderkid who won silver at this year’s Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna. We’ve been watching his unique career unfold since we named him one of the city’s up-and-comers in 2007. Since then, the no longer anonymous Jamie Stunt has become one of the best known, most respected and universally adored chefs in town.

On the jumbotron, winner of this year's Gold Medal Plates Jamie Stunt (centre). Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Here is the note he sent around this afternoon announcing his departure from Oz Kafe. We can’t wait to see where he turns up next — fingers crossed it will be in Ottawa!

“It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that I have decided to leave my position as chef at Oz Kafe at the beginning of July.

It has been an amazing seven and half years watching the restaurant grow and I am certain that it will continue to thrive once I am gone. I feel extremely lucky to have found such a wonderful place to work and in Ozlem Balpinar, such a supportive and awesome person to work for. 

The very able and talented Simon Bell will be taking over as chef and I look forward to frequently coming to Oz as a customer to eat his food and enjoy the restaurant as a guest. 

As for myself, I will be taking the summer off to recharge my battery and spend time with family and friends. I also plan to do some travelling as well as some apprenticeships to expand my skill set and better myself as a cook.

It’s been a truly amazing time working at a truly amazing restaurant and I would like to thank everyone I have had the pleasure to work with, the awesome clientele, the suppliers who brought such great products and the countless chefs who have graced our little kitchen in collaboration[ so much talent in this city!]. 

Thank you Oz and thank you Ottawa.”

 

 


SWEET CRAVINGS: Introducing Valrhona’s blond — a totally new chocolate obsession

You've seen dark and milk chocolate but what's that above the white chocolate? That's blond, an entirely new category of chocolate created by Valrhona.

First there was milk, dark, and white chocolate. Now there is blond.

Invented and launched recently by Valrhona — one of the top chocolate companies in France — blond chocolate, dubbed Dulcey, began its life as a happy accident.

The story has the ring of a fairy tale: the head chef at Valrhona’s chocolate school, Frédéric Bau, put some white chocolate in a bain-marie to melt it, and then forgot about it.

Ten hours later, he followed the beautiful aroma back to the kitchen where it had taken on the characteristics of caramelized milk. It developed a gorgeous blond colour and an unusual toasty flavour that lingers on the tongue.

“The taste of Dulcey has an emotional dimension that makes it a very unique chocolate,” says Quentin Chapuis of Valrhona Canada. “It reminds a lot of people of the butter biscuits they ate when they were kids.”

Valrhona first rolled out the product by getting it into the hands of some of Canada’s top pastry chefs, including the chef at Maison Boulud in Montreal, Thomas Haas in Vancouver, and Nadège Nourian, a fourth-generation pastry chef with two shops in Toronto.

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CRAFT BEER + ARTISAN CHEESE: Beau’s partners with Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese to create a new beer-washed rind cheese — just in time for the Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Shep Ysselstein, the owner and operator of Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese has partnered with Beau's to make a beer washed-rind cheese that will change with the seasons .

I guess the monks in the Middle Ages knew something that many of us are just starting to figure out: beer and cheese taste great together.

Back in the day, artisan monks brewed beer and made cheese in monasteries for their communities. Typically washed rind cheeses are bathed in saltwater brine; the washing helps break down the curd from the outside. It’s fun to imagine the day the monks discovered that they could use beer to wash the rinds of cheese during the aging process to influence the texture, aroma, and flavour of the cheese.

Flash-forward to today, to a small cheese plant near Woodstock Ontario, where the next chapter in the history of beer washed-rind cheese is being written.

There, 30-year-old Shep Ysselstein, of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese (located on his family’s third-generation dairy farm nestled in the rolling hills of Gunn’s Hill Rd. in Oxford County, Ontario — the Dairy Capital of Canada), has been working over the past few months to create a cheese using Vankleek Hill’s beloved brew, Beau’s.

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IN DIGESTION: Best bites from Ottawa’s 17th annual Bon Appetit

As a first-time attendee of Bon Appetit, I appreciated the relaxed and hospitable ambiance of the food and wine show that took place on Tuesday evening. It was a stark contrast to the intensity of other endless-grazing events like Gold Medal Plates in which the chefs are competing to create the best dishes of the night.

The ox tongue pastrami was brined for 2 weeks, smoked for 16 hours and steamed for 3 hours; topped with Juniper Farms sauerkraut, Gruyere sauce, Russian dressing on Rideau Bakery ry

Not just a welcome relief from bun-centric slider overload, this dish hit all the right notes: fresh, crunchy, spicy and light. I didn't want it to end.

Still, I couldn’t help but to rank some of my favourites bites of the night:

GOLD: It’s a tie between…

Les Fougeres‘ tandoori-spiced grain-fed mini chicken burger served on spring salad with fresh herbs and peanuts (left)

…and Social’s ox tongue Reuben on rye (right).

 

 

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