DesBrisay Dines

CITY BITES INSIDER: Fraser Café brothers put finishing touches on The Rowan in the Glebe


Ottawa Magazine stops by to visit as Simon and Ross Fraser oversee the final weeks of renovations ahead of the opening of The Rowan, just steps from Lansdowne Park.

Set to open in mid-July, the 45-seat restaurant, with its open kitchen and front-of-room bar, marks a new challenge for the brothers, who have operated Fraser Café, the so-very-popular neighbourhood eatery in New Edinburgh, for seven years. As the crews install lighting, Simon and Ross talk about the name, the menu, and the hoped-for vibe at The Rowan.

Picture this: Designed by bex of PLOTNONPLOT Architecture, the firm which designed The Rowan, the new mural was installed at the end of June.

Picture this: Created by bex of PLOTNONPLOT Architecture, the firm which designed The Rowan, the signature mural encompasses six panels and was installed at the end of June.

You’ve operated Fraser Café [and, later, Table 40] for seven years. Why add another restaurant to your duties?
Ross: We’ve always been on the lookout for new projects. So it was part of the plan. Now it’s time.

Why the Glebe?
Simon: It’s a great neighbourhood — The Glebe has a feeling very similar to where we are now [New Edinburgh / Rockcliffe Park]. So the neighbourhood seemed like a good fit for us and when the restaurant space became available it felt right. Also, I live just down the street in Old Ottawa South, so I’m close by!


The Rowan marks a new challenge for Ross (left) and Simon Fraser, who have been at the helm of the successful Fraser Café in New Edinburgh for seven years.

How did the collaboration [with Zazaza’s Ion Aimers] come about?
Simon: It’s a long story, but we were working with Ion on new menu ideas for Zazaza [which has been replaced by The Rowan] and we ended up coming up with an idea for a whole new restaurant. It’s a huge change.

Tell me about the menu.
Simon: It’s going to have a modern British feel to it — classic flavours. The food will be simple, flavourful, and local, with not too much manipulation. It will be very different from Fraser Café, which has more influences from around the world. But it won’t be pub food!

Ross: There will be a familiarity to the dishes, but they won’t be exactly what you’re expecting.

How did you choose The Rowan as the name?
Ross: We had a few ideas and The Rowan won out. Since the food has an English feel to it, we wanted the name to match. The rowan tree is featured in many myths and stories.

In one panel of the extended mural, the branches of the restaurant's namesake rowan tree play host to colourful waxwings.

In one panel of the extended mural, the branches of the restaurant’s namesake rowan tree play host to colourful waxwings.

Tell me about the mural of the rowan tree on one wall. Who did it?
Ross: It’s actually done by one of the architects, Bex, from PLOTNONPLOT, which is the firm working on The Rowan’s design. Their team has been fantastic. They’re totally into design but also very practical.

How many people will The Rowan seat?
Ross: We’ve got 45 seats. There’s an open kitchen at the back and a bar with 6 or 7 seats at the front, where you can have a drink and also eat.

How will you clone yourselves to work here?
Simon: After all these years at Fraser Café, we have an amazing team, so we’re comfortable delegating to them. We know they can execute when we’re not able to be there. One of those team members is Kyle Deacon, who will become chef de cuisine at The Rowan when it opens.

What are you most excited about?
Ross: We’re pretty excited that this will be a very different challenge than the past seven years at Fraser Café. I’m sure we’ll see some familiar faces, but it’s mostly going to be a whole new neighbourhood crowd and a very different environment.

Simon: Yes, at the café we have a similar crowd, more often than not. At The Rowan, I picture that there will be a different feel depending on what’s going on at Lansdowne Park that night.

The artist's concept for the signature mural shows the showcases the tree's branches, which showcase all four seasons, beginning with spring (to the left)

The artist’s concept for the signature mural shows the showcases the tree’s branches, which showcase all four seasons, beginning with spring (to the left)

Is the opening date set?
Ross: Early to mid-July. We have to get it right, so we’ll make sure everything’s ready before we open.

Simon: We’ll post the opening date on social media once we’re sure.


CITY BITES INSIDER: Opinicon’s new owner gives scoop on revamped & reopened iconic lodge


Guest Carly Beath ( photographed the iconic resort on a sunny June day.

Guest Carly Beath ( photographed the iconic resort on a sunny June day.

Meet Fiona McKean. Over the past eight months, the busy mother of three (and wife of Shopify head, Tobias Lütke) has presided over a massive overhaul of The Opinicon Resort, the century-old Chaffey’s Lock icon.

That overhaul includes a complete revamp of the expansive restaurant. Opened in June, the 115-seat eatery now tempts day trippers and nearby cottagers with an updated menu that moves beyond prime rib to include inventive salads, charcuterie, and fine baking. Ottawa Magazine quizzed McKean on the latest developments just days after the restaurant’s soft opening.


How long will you stay open this season?
For sure until the locks close, which is Thanksgiving weekend. We’ll be doing a full Thanksgiving dinner, which is an old tradition at The Opinicon. We might stay open a week or two longer than that, but it really depends on the weather.

Before: Old carpets and nicotine-stained wallpaper made for a not-so-appetizing vibe.

Before: Old carpets and nicotine-stained wallpaper made for a not-so-appetizing vibe.

You used to visit the restaurant at the “old” Opinicon. What was it like?
Way, way back, it was known for its good food and catered to a clientele of American fishermen and hunters. So there were big portions and lots of meat and potatoes. And that’s what carried on. My memories of this place are of lots of roasts and a set menu that rotated weekly so you knew that on a Tuesday, say, it was Chicken Kiev night or whatever, and Wednesday was a turkey dinner.

And that worked for a long time?
Yes, because a few decades ago The Opinicon was almost completely booked up for the whole summer with people who were staying long-term at the hotel or cabins. They didn’t really encourage “transients,” as they called the walk-in clientele. Now people don’t stay for a month at a time like they used to. It’s generally a week or two.

Today: Snapped just before the restaurant opened for business, this photograph gives a good sense of the new lighter, brighter Opinicon restaurant.

Today: Snapped just before the restaurant opened for business, this photograph gives a good sense of the new lighter, brighter Opinicon restaurant.

How big is the restaurant?
It’s big! Right now, it seats 115. We plan to expand, but we’re doing approvals in chunks so we’ll soon get the outdoor veranda space open, which will add another 40 spaces. The resort can host 90 people when it’s full, so the dining room has to be big enough to host paying guests and people who stop by just for brunch or lunch or dinner.

What did the restaurant look like before the renovation?
Just a couple of months ago, it felt really dated and dark. It had the nastiest carpet that had been put in in the 1980s and the wallpaper was an over-the-top floral print that was yellowed from the years when guests were allowed to smoke.

And now?
The transformation has been massive. It’s beautiful and fresh, with new hardwood floors, white wainscoting, and super-lovely warm light green on the walls. Honestly, it looks like something out of Dirty Dancing. It looks like it was meant to be danced in. When people who knew the “old” dining room walk in, they can’t believe it!

Chef Angela Baldwin took a quick shot of the charcuterie platter, which highlights Seed to Sausage meats and local cheeses.

Chef Angela Baldwin took a quick shot of the charcuterie platter, which highlights Seed to Sausage meats and local cheeses.

Tell me about the menu.
We’ve modified it to be more like a real restaurant. It no longer just caters to people staying at the resort. It’s much more welcoming to people stopping by from surrounding cottages to have lunch or enjoy a dinner before heading back for the evening.

Basically, we’ve tried to take simple and good, and kick it up a notch or two — actually two and a half! There are a wider variety of foods that cater to more varied tastes. So you can still order a perfectly done steak or prime rib, but you can also get a quinoa salad or a kale salad or a Caesar salad or a great charcuterie plate. There are vegetarian and vegan options. It’s all local meats and cheeses. It’s 2015 now!

How did you find the chef?
Her name is Angela Baldwin and she’s from the area, which is great. She grew up living and breathing the culture and knows the people. She sowed her culinary oats in all kinds of places, including Saskatchewan for a number of years, where she followed her boyfriend. But when she returned to Ontario, we had the job opening at just the right time. We really lucked out. She’s fantastic and she knows her stuff. And she specializes in desserts!


A view of the veranda, which will soon be open to guests who want to dine outdoors.

Do you also have plans to host large groups?
Definitely. For instance, last Saturday the restaurant was packed with 90 members of the same family for a 50th wedding anniversary. The vibe was great. A day before that, we had a full house of 115 for the Cataraqui Trail fundraising dinner. And on the first night we got our occupancy permit (June 5), we hosted a high-school prom!

Has it been as much work as you thought?
We got the keys at the end of January and I don’t think we’ve slept since! We wanted to get started right away, but the winter was so deeply cold and awful that we couldn’t even paint inside. Once we saw what furniture could be salvaged — not much — we spent much of the winter figuring out a plan of attack for when it warmed up so we could be really organized. There are 25 buildings on 16 acres so it is a huge and ongoing job.

You were quoted as saying that when you bought The Opinicon Resort in January, it was with your heart. Now it’s all about the practicalities of turning it into a viable business again. Are you having fun?
Most days I’m loving it. I make decisions quickly, but when you’re dealing with permits and trades they don’t always have the same sense of urgency. So I’ve had to roll with other people’s timelines a bit.

We’re doing renovations on a three-year plan. This year it’s open for everyone who misses the place — who has a connection and can see all the effort we’ve put in. We’ll do more improvements and renovations over the winter so that next year we’ll be ready to market to new visitors. I want people who don’t know The Opinicon to be blown away.

One-sentence description of the past six months?
I feel like I’ve been drinking information through a fire hose!

CITY BITES INSIDER: Marc Lepine dishes on his ambitious expansion of Atelier — and a new restaurant being planned for fall


Meet Marc Lepine. Renowned for his clever 12-course menus, the Atelier chef shot to national fame in 2012 when he won gold at the Canadian Culinary Championships, beating out top chefs from across the country for the crown. Since then, reservations at the tiny 22-seat Atelier have been hard to come by. That will change later this summer when Ottawa’s king of molecular gastronomy launches the newly-renovated Atelier, which has doubled in size. Also on Lepine’s current agenda — participation in a nationwide lentil competition and a second restaurant slated to open this fall.


A stylin’ Marc Lepine recently appeared in a series of Harry Rosen ads that promoted Canada’s top “masters of the grill” — and some of the store’s clothing lines. Matt Barnes for Harry Rosen

How long have you been planning the expansion of Atelier?
A long time! I originally chose the building [in 2008] because there was the option of expansion, so it was in the back of my mind from the start. But we’ve been hands-on planning for just over two years. The time was right to finally start.

What’s the timeline for the bigger, better Atelier?
We’ve got roughly a month or six weeks of finishing to do, so we’re hoping to open the expanded section in mid-August.

Tell me about the renovation.
We’ve done work on all three levels of the building. There’s a new dining area upstairs, which doubles our capacity to 45. We’re also expanding the kitchen, which is almost tripling in size. That’s great for me — and everyone around me.

Were you trying to achieve a certain look?
To be honest, I’m useless when it comes to that kind of thing. The focus of Atelier is obviously the food, so the design is refined. The colours are black and white to allow the food to “pop” in the room.

Was it fun working with the designers [Urbanomic Interiors]?
I just told them to do their thing! I didn’t have too many specifications beyond the budget. It’s like cooking — if you give someone creative free rein, they’re going to come up with something pretty special. I didn’t want to attach too many rules.

How will the expansion change business?
Really, it just lets us have more guests. But we may do some more group bookings. Maybe I’ll offer a shorter-style menu for a group looking to come in.

I’ve heard rumours that you’re still planning to open a second restaurant. Any truth to that?
Yes. It’s planned for later in the fall.

Anything more you can tell me?
It’s going to be weird and different! I don’t want to talk about it ahead of time — it would take a really long time to explain and I’d like people to try it out and then let them describe it.

Speaking of “different,” you’re one of four Ottawa chefs participating in the Canada-wide FUNdeLENTIL competition this month. How do you get to be on a lentil tour?
Yes, for the month of June I’m cooking with lentils every night [the other restaurants are Murray Street Kitchen, Absinthe, and The Wellington Gastropub]. Anita Stewart from Food Day Canada visited the four restaurants and presented us with this challenge to use Canadian lentils in a dish throughout June.

Did you work regularly with lentils before?
We have featured them lots of times in the past. For this dish we pair two kinds of lentils [red and beluga] with carrots and duck, among other things. It will be on the tasting menu for the month of June so people can try it and vote on their favourite recipe online.

Last question. I saw you recently in a Harry Rosen ad. Tell me about that.
It was a newspaper ad in The Globe and Mail. It ran for a day in May and also in the Harry Rosen catalogue.

How did that come about?
Harry Rosen did this style/chef series of portraits [called Masters of the Grill]. I knew the other four chefs so we had a good time. Ned Bell [Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver], Antonio Park [Park Restaurant in Montreal], Duncan Ly [Raw Bar in Calgary], and Carl Heinrich [Richmond Station in Toronto]. Harry Rosen flew everyone in to Toronto for the night and then the shoot took 2 or 3 hours.

Are you comfortable with the “celebrity thing”?
I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity! But it’s great to get recognition in Ottawa. The city gets forgotten sometimes, I think.


CITY BITES INSIDER: Big Rig Brewery’s Lon Ladell set to wow Toronto connoisseurs at Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival 2015


Meet Lon Ladell. He may just be the busiest brewmaster in town, overseeing the opening of Big Rig Brewery’s new restaurant in Gloucester and a second brewing facility in Kanata. But, more importantly, the beer! Always the beer. Ladell recently signed up for the annual “Collaboration Nation” competition at Toronto’s massive Session Craft Beer Festival (June 13). Big Rig has paired up with Exclaim! Magazine to create a signature brew that will compete against a dozen others from top Ontario brewers. The stakes are huge, with the winning collaboration scoring a coveted spot on LCBO shelves. Ottawa Magazine caught up with Ladell a few days before he headed to the festival.


Lon Ladell, brewmaster for Ottawa’s Big Rig Brewery

Why are you so pumped to be collaborating with Exclaim! Magazine?
It means we get to work with people who have a different — and a bigger — reach than the craft breweries. They get to do something cool and interesting, and we get to learn some things from them and open up our beer to new people.

Why Exclaim! Magazine?
We knew we wanted to do Collaboration Nation at the Session Craft Beer Festival, so we started bouncing around ideas of who to work with. Exclaim! came up because music is a huge part of our culture at Big Rig. We’ve always got music cranked when we’re producing. We wanted to work with someone in that scene — someone who works with a diverse range of artists.

How did it come together?
The guys at Exclaim! were into it right away. We chatted with [Exclaim! publisher] Ian Danzig and came up with a loose concept. Then he and a couple of other guys — John Price and Roberto Granados-Ocan — came down from Toronto for the day to Big Rig. We brainstormed the recipe in the morning, then we got right into it — picking the grain, crushing it, and starting the brewing process.

Did the name influence the beer?
Totally! It’s called Exclaim!—An Imperial Beer. With a name like that, it had to be a really big IPA.

What’s it taste like?
It’s a blonde IPA and we added a specialized hop called Nelson Sauvin, which has a really grapy flavor note to it. That was our base. Then we played around with adding cold-steeped coffee from Engine House Coffee.

You added coffee?
It gives it a roasty character. In the end, it’s a really unique beer, but still accessible.

What happens if you win the collaboration competition?
I’m hoping I get a big, shiny medal! But seriously, the beer would get a listing at the LCBO, which would be amazing. It’s a very big prize. As more craft brewers enter the market, it’s harder and harder to get shelf space.

big rig 1

Who are you up against?
I haven’t really studied up on the competition, to be honest. I’m just looking forward to trying all these beers! We do know the only other Ottawa-area brewer in the competition is Beau’s [collaborating with hip hop artist k-os], but the rest of the breweries are Toronto-based.

 How much are you taking?
We’re taking 25 50-L tanks. There’s a big launch party on Thursday, June 11 with Exclaim! Magazine and then everyone at the Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival will be able to sample it on Saturday, June 13 at Yonge-Dundas Square.

So is this an opening foray into the Toronto market?
For sure we want to sell more beer in Toronto! This is an opportunity to say ‘Hey, check us out.’ We recently opened up our new production facility [in Kanata] so we’ve got capacity. We’ve obviously got a strong profile in the 613, so now we’re putting our minds to more promotional events beyond Ottawa to really get our name out there.

beer can isolated on a white background; Shutterstock ID 110513867

Are you comfortable doing the promotional side?
I am. I love the “back of the house side,” which is the brewing, but I also have fun planning the events and looking at ways to make the business grow. I’m a Gemini so I can balance both sides!

You have two regular beers at the LCBO. What’s the latest?
Release the Hounds Black IPA was released in the second week of March. We put it in the 2014 Canadian Brewing Awards and it won the gold medal, which is pretty cool considering the quality of craft beer across Canada.

What’s on the agenda right now?
What’s not on the agenda! More beer soon! We just opened our second restaurant in the east end. We’re happily expanding. We already had the brewery on Iris Street and now we’ve opened a second facility [on Schneider Road in Kanata]. This lets us do the larger volumes at the new brewery and use the Iris Street brewery as a “test kitchen,” where we can play and create new, exciting beers.

People might not know they can stop by the Big Rig Brewery facility.
Definitely they can! We’re open 11am to 6pm on weekdays [and noon to 6pm on Saturday] and we have soup and sandwiches brought in from the restaurant on Iris. People can stop in, have some lunch, buy a glass of beer, maybe watch us can. We have new beers on tap all the time. And tours — you can sign up ahead for tours.


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



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!

Read the rest of this story »

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


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


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


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.

Read the rest of this story »

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




DesBrisay Dines