DesBrisay Dines

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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FOOD-FUNDING 101: Local food entrepreneurs want you to put your money where your mouth is

Farmer Rosemary Kralik is using crowdfunding to save her farm from foreclosure

Crowdfunding — the popular method of online fundraising for startups — is becoming the next major financial model for entrepreneurs. Kickstarter is the biggest platform, but there are dozens of clones, imitators, and innovators helping little guys get the cash they need for everything from the making of indie films and funny T-shirts to self-publishing novels and creating a line of hats for cats.

But what about helping a young chef pay for his new food cart or helping a lone farmer buy enough hay for a herd of yak to last until the pasture grows?

Yes, there’s crowdfunding for that.

WHO: ROSEMARY KRALIK, farmer, Tiraislin Farm

GOAL: $26,000


When Oz Kafe chef Jamie Stunt won the Canadian Culinary Championships with a dish featuring succulent yak meat from Ottawa Valley’s Tiraislin Farm, the nation’s culinary elite were introduced to the extraordinary work of 68-year-old farmer, Rosemary Kralik.

Known to her customers at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market affectionately as “The Yak Lady”, Kralik lovingly raises Tibetan yak among dozens of other species free to roam on her property. In order to pay the bills, Kralik has increasingly had to rely on her artistic talent — painting and drawing, creating portraits of animals and humans on commission — after a series of unexpected events over the last few months threatened the survival of her farm. There was drought, rising costs of hay, vet bills for an injured dog, and tractor repair costs.

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FOOD TRUCK FEVER: Taste the trucks! Wednesday, May 8, 12-1:30 p.m. at City Hall; plus the owner of Relish reveals his Top 5 tips for new mobile vendors

Samples of boa (Asian steamed, filled buns) from the Gongfu boa cart are being prepared in the kitchen at the Piggy Market. Owner Tarek Hassan is making 250 mini-buns for Wednesday's launch.

Are you ready for a taste of some of Ottawa’s new food truck menus? Come to City Hall on Wednesday for the official launch of the new generation of street food vendors. Philip Powell, the City administrator of the new licenses, confirmed the launch is on, but he didn’t say which trucks and carts would be in attendance.

I get the sense that several of the new vendors are scrambling to put everything into place to launch their businesses this month. They have had just a few months from the time they got the green light back in February to the time they are expected to hit the streets. As the appetite for street food builds to a frenzy, some truck-owners are experiencing natural delays related to equipment and permits.

But the show must go on. The trucks and carts that are ready will roll on over to City Hall this Wednesday with samples galore.

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EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK: Bottles of Harvey & Vern’s, Ottawa’s own soda pop — coming soon to a shoppe near you

When word got around that Paul Meek, the face of local brew darling Kichisippi Beer Co., was in the process of starting up a line of “olde fashioned” soda called Harvey & Vern’s — let’s just say the city’s gourmet geeks were like kids in a candy store.

Make no mistake. There’s no alcohol in this relatively wholesome product, aimed at adults. While the reputation of mega-pop brands like Coke are under tremendous scrutiny these days for contributing to obesity and other ill-health conditions, Meek says the message is — if you’re going to drink soda, you want it to be all-natural.

He admits they weren’t legally allowed to call the product “all-natural,” so the bottles tout another one of its virtues: Canadian Original.

For food business owners like Ben Baird who just launched a food truck, Ottawa Streat Gourmet, the idea of serving locally-made, natural cane sugar-sweetened cream soda and ginger beer (the first two flavours in the line) just hit the spot.”I’m very happy to serve a product that is made with integrity of ingredients,” says Baird. The fact that these sodas contain no high fructose corn syrup — the devil of our food system —impressed him the most.


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FOOD TRUCK FEVER: There’s only one LeRoy. He’s back with grandma’s soul food recipes — and his face on the side of a Purolator truck

LeRoy Walden is keeping Soul Food in the capital, this time on wheels...and on a stick.

While out for coffee, Ottawa’s self-proclaimed Soul Food King, LeRoy Walden spotted his former neighbour. After a big hug, he shared the news that he closed his restaurant and is about to launch a food truck this spring. The first question out of her mouth was: “You’re still going to make fried chicken, right?”

Was there any doubt? LeRoy’s name is synonymous with fried chicken in these parts. And he likes it that way. My question is: What took him so long?

Back in 2008, I directed Ottawa Magazine readers to a little place I’d found called Jean Albert’s. It was a cottage off the highway in the quiet rural Ontario town of Hallville where — lo and behold — Walden, a Detroit record producer, was serving up his grandma’s super-succulent crispy batter-fried chicken and other comfort food recipes with tall glasses of fresh lemonade and sweet tea at picnic tables in his wife’s hometown.

It’s safe to say, it was the first authentic American Soul Food restaurant in the national capital region.

For people who were less familiar with the hearty home cooking of the American south, it was the first chance to try things like sweet corn pancakes, fried catfish, collard greens, and black-eyed peas. But as it turns out, soul food is easy to love. Jean Albert’s soon moved to the city to be closer to its fans and had a second life in a little house on Somerset street.

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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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