DesBrisay Dines

SEASONAL EATING: Chef Matthew Brearley of Castlegarth Restaurant takes us into the wild and talks about his upcoming foraging dinners

Last year, Chef Brearley of Castegarth Restaurant foraged all the ingredients except for the venison for his spectacular dish at the Gold Medal Plates competition. Designed to resemble the forest floor, his plate had acorns, black walnuts, hawthorn berries, Jerusalem artichokes, wild apples, and wild ginger – all the things that the venison would eat. It was an impressive and delicious dish, and I have never forgotten it.

This spring, Chef Brearley has teamed up with fellow foraging enthusiast Scott Perrie of Morels Ottawa to prepare very special menus based on the gifts of nature. City Bites got the scoop on the exciting world of foraged ingredients from one of the region’s most passionnate practitioners.

City Bites: Have you done foraging dinners in the past?
Matthew Brearley: Yes I have been doing foraging dinners for many years I believe this is the seventh one.  In the early years the wild food was more of the accent of the meal and consisted of the usual suspects morels, wild leeks, wild ginger. Last years was the most experimental using ingredients like lichens, wild carrot and yarrow. Before Castlegarth I did a special foraging menu at the 4&20 Blackbird Cafe

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NOW OPEN! Chez François, a fine food shop for Francofiles in Westboro

An appreciation for small French luxuries is what ties together the items on the shelves of Chez François like twine around a bouquet of lavender. What binds the customers may be something more primal: pining for fresh, flakey buttery croissants.

The croissants have been luring customers into Westboro’s gourmet boutique since December when husband and wife owners, Jean-Francois Maranda and Viktoriya Melenteva, transplanted the shop to Ottawa from Mont-Tremblant.

It existed for 20 years under the name Plaisirs de Provence, with food entering the business in 2007. The couple owned another shop in Quebec City and one in Montreal before they relocated to Aylmer, Quebec, with the idea of bringing their French import business to the capital city.

While Chez François specializes in typical Provencal housewares, including lovely textiles and tableware, more than half of the shop is now dedicated to food — fresh-baked goods and refrigerated items like imported cheeses, foie gras (goose and duck), and French dried sausages. There’s also a sweet counter full of such goodies as macarons, cookies, fruit tarts, chocolates, and candies.

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OPENING: Introducing Slice & Co. — doing for pizza what The Smoque Shack did for BBQ

Chef/co-owner Warren Sutherland (R) in the open-kitchen at Slice & Co. with one of his pizza cooks

“My food is for everyone,” says Warren Sutherland, the mastermind behind Elgin Street’s cool new pizzeria-with-a-twist, Slice & Co (located at 399 Elgin St.).

During an interview with the former fine-dining chef, I realize Sutherland is turning the notion of good food for the masses on its head. He knows fine dining (even casual fine dining) is out of reach — in terms of cost, interest and comfort level — for a good percentage of the population.

But he says that doesn’t mean people should have to choose between privileged “chef food” and crap.

He could probably care less if his customers could tell the difference between a sea urchin and a sunchoke — the foodie crowd has plenty of dining options in town today. He’s here to stand up for mainstream eaters. But even those who don’t (and wouldn’t want to) call themselves “foodies” can appreciate good quality, thoughtfully prepared everyday food.

And that’s where Sutherland and Slice & Co. aims to raise the bar.

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IN SEASON: Maple syrup, maple taffy, maple sugar…maple perfume?

The maple forest that inspired its own perfume. Photo credit: Jeannette Lambert

Last year’s sugaring-off season was cut short when we had an unseasonably warm spring. This year is another story. If anyone is happy about the lingering cold temperatures into April this year, I imagine it’s our maple syrup producers.

The funny thing is, the longer I live in Ottawa, the more I feel intimately connected to the rhythms of maple syrup season. It’s as if I can smell it in the air when the sap starts to flow.

I have already made my annual pilgrimage to my favourite sugar shack in the area, something that has become a family ritual — booking a table for 20 or more and then inviting an assortment of friends and family from Toronto and Montreal to join our Ottawa caravan to Rigaud, Quebec, to the Sucerie de la Montagne.

This was my fourth visit to Sucerie (I blogged about it last year), and I am happy to say that it is still a thrill. I love the fact that trees are tapped with a spout (instead of tubes) into a pail and the sap is boiled over a wood fired evaporator.

In fact, everything at this Quebec Heritage Site is done in the service of tradition.

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SIGNS OF SPRING: Ataulfo Mangoes — the only mango you need

So long Tommy (the common red and green mangoes). Ataulfos are the best mango — perhaps the best fruit — you'll ever eat

Under the category: you learn something new every day — allow me to share what was, until recently, a mystery to me.

Those large shiny red and green mangos we so commonly see in supermarkets — first of all, they are named Tommy. Who knew? Tommy Atkins to be exact.

Second, it’s thanks to Mr. Atkins that these are the mangoes on our shelves. He was the guy who, back in the 1950s, convinced commercial growers in Florida to take up the production of these attractive mangoes in spite of what appeared to be a widely recognized fact: they don’t taste good. We’re talking bland, tart, and unpleasantly stringy little suckers.

Yet those crappy mangoes keep beckoning us to buy them — I confess, I sometimes fall for it. And not because they are delicious (they are not). But then I just blame myself for not letting it ripen long enough on the counter. Instead they persist, quite literally, because they happen to be durable, disease-resistant, and have what supermarket managers seem to value above all else, a long shelf life. In other words, food industry puppeteers love them. To my knowledge, Tommy became — and remains — the most common mango sold in this country.

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OPENING: Introducing Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen, poetry in motion

At home in his Kitchen at last, Richard Nigro started feeding the Hintonbourgeois on Saturday

On Saturday, Chef Richard Nigro, one of the founding chefs of Juniper, opened the door to his very own Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen, a much-anticipated new take-out/home catering shop on Wellington.

I say much-anticipated because Nigro has been drumming up my interest with a series of stream-of-consciousness email updates from the chef detailing the progress and inevitable delays related to City permits, construction, building inspections etc. over the last several months.

During that time, I’ve had a glimpse into the chef’s creative mind, quirky sense of humour, and offbeat approach to business that will no doubt make his kitchen unique to the neighbourhood and the city. In the first email he wrote:

“I feel as if I’m writing from deep in the big empty… Little steps, little steps that together make a leap, a bound and a jump across the finish line… I am hoping that like a snowball at the top of a hill, the renovations will slowly build momentum and speed as the work continues and will rush to a conclusion. “

How many chefs do you know who would describe construction delays in such poetic terms? The next email continued this theme:

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BREAKING NEWS: Art Is In keeps its no-compromise promise. The bakery winds down its wholesale bread division to focus on the expansion of the bakery-café

Never happier than when he's searing foie gras to top a burger for guests at his bakery, Kevin Mathieson plans to continue to indulge his passion for cooking.

When Art Is In Bakery started eight years ago, it was a dream come true for Kevin Mathieson and his wife Stephanie. Their passion for the pleasures of handmade bread, done in small batches with constant care and attention, resulted in a line of breathtaking sourdoughs and savoury Dynamite baguettes that shook the capital out of its sliced-bread complacency.

We’ve never looked back. In fact, many of us (myself included) became European shoppers when it comes to bread: with Art Is In Bakery, we finally had a reason to buy our bread fresh daily (or a least a few times a week).

As anyone who has come to know Kevin Mathieson personally can appreciate, he simply doesn’t compromise. Whether it’s the seasoning in the salad dressing or the sprig of rosemary in the French fries, no detail is too small to overlook. I have always found his dedication to excellence and the pursuit of great food inspiring. He told me recently the same thing he said when he started out eight years ago: nothing is more important to him than the quality of his products.

But here’s the thing about running a wildly popular bakery: Artisanal bread-baking is the work of human hands, not machines. As the company has grown to keep up with the increasing demand for Art Is In breads, it has been a struggle to keep that promise.

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OPENING: Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern, new history in the making (it may even open today!)

Elmdale Oyster House Co-owners Peter McCallum (left) and Joshua Bishop (centre) with Executive Chef Chloe Berlanga

You may have heard that Joshua Bishop the owner of the Whalesbone Oyster House has partnered with his restaurant’s general manager, Peter McCallum, to open the new and much-anticipated Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern. Well, the time has come.

I have been assured the doors will definitely be open by Sunday, but Bishop hinted that they might begin serving sooner — as early as today or tomorrow — without the full menu being available.

Last weekend, they held the Whalesbone staff party in the space, spinning vinyl and slurping oysters among the renovation debris. That night, a who’s-who of the restaurant industry did their very best to help christen the ship and prepare it for launch this week.

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IN DIGESTION: Discovering “Modern Montreal”—highlights from Ottawa Magazine’s Foodlab dinner

Chef Marek plates the black bass dish designed to evoke the lightness of spring

On Saturday night, I hosted a sold-out City Bites Live event at Urban Element that featured celebrated Montreal chefs Seth Gabrielse and Michelle Marek, the creative due behind Foodlab.

The name Foodlab can be misleading — is it futuristic food? Experimental? Test tube food? On the contrary. It’s revolutionary, even radical, raison d’etre is to be a place driven by a creative mandate, not a financial one — a restaurant built upon the  love of food, a deep respect for ingredients, and food producers, not profit.

If you think about it, pretty much everything we eat has been made with profit in mind. I have often wondered how chefs would cook if they weren’t under the enormous pressure imposed on them by thin profit margins and high-stakes stress of the food business. Foodlab gives us a taste of that.

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YOU’RE INVITED!: Celebrate Young Cuisine with an exclusive Sunday Supper at Table 40 with Ottawa Magazine, March 24

Table 40 is credited with introducing the city to the pleasures of communal dining in Ottawa Magazine's annual 'hot 10' restaurants issue. Photography by Chris Lalonde / Photolux Studio

CITY BITES LIVE presents…

Sunday Family-Style Supper at Fraser Café’s Table 40

Chefs Simon and Ross Fraser have designed a family-style menu exclusively for up to 40 City Bites readers!

Gather up your friends and family and join Ottawa Magazine food editor and City Bites blogger Shawna Wagman for an exclusive 4-course dinner at Table 40, the #3 spot on this year’s HOT-10 LIST of Young Cuisine.

Last year, brothers Simon and Ross Fraser, co-owners of Fraser Café, decided to take over a neighbouring convenience store to create a funky private dining venue  based on the trendy new dining concept was made famous at places like Ruby WatchCo in Toronto and Ad Hoc in California. Table 40 is Ottawa’s foray into the world of casual and convivial “family-style” dining. It’s inspired by the same things that make a great dinner party — great food, casual ambiance, and even a chance to make new friends.

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