Articles Tagged ‘city bites’

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.

 

 

 

 

DON’T MISS OUT! Two more days only – WinterBites offers fabulous prix fixe fare at 29 restaurants

It started with two simple notions: that Ottawa winters are cold and that prix fixe menus are enticing. (Climatologists might tell us we’re having a mild winter, but my toes beg to differ!)

Indeed, once post-holiday hibernation sets in it can be difficult to fight. Difficult, but not impossible, especially with the kind of attention-grabbing menus on offer at the participating restaurants. Warm up with lobster bisque. Indulge in duck leg confit. Finish off a stellar meal with crème brûlée. (All the mouth-watering details are in, making it easy to plan a double date that will keep everyone happy.)

Most restos are offering two three-course lunch menus ($15 or $20) and two three-course dinner menus ($30 0r $40); drinks, taxes, and tip are extra.

With 29 restaurants joining in and only 17 days of WinterBites, best to start planning asap. So get out your dayplanner, call up your foodie friends, and make a date to visit an old favourite or that new place you’ve been wanting to try.

A few tips to start your eating expedition:

To see a full list of participating restaurants, visit www.ottawamagazine.com/winterbites-2012

Find detailed menus on the WinterBites Facebook page.

Reservations are required, so book directly with your restaurants of choice.

Dazzled by dinner? Lingering over lunch? Send us a tweet @Winter_Bites

WinterBites runs Thursday, Jan. 12 to Saturday, Jan. 28.

BEST OF CITY BITES: 2011 The Annual Digest

Looking back over the year, 2011 was particularly delicious for lovers of cupcakes, Southern-style BBQ, French pastries, wood-oven pizzas, gourmet panini and serious gelato. It was also a great year for the Chowhounds among us in search of unusual culinary treasures from around the world: there was a Balkan Big Mac, a Chinese hamburger, and at long last, Mexican tacos.

These photos are just a few of the outtakes from my year of eating for City Bites, and they still put a smile on my face. Thanks for tuning in to see what we’ve been eating each week. We can’t wait to see what’s on the menu in 2012. Happy New Year Ottawa!

ON THE SCENE: Five Spots for Tourtière

OPENING! Le Michel-Ange, a heavenly coffee lover’s hideaway

FOOD: Stirring the Pot. Six female power players on the food scene chat about what life’s really like under the hood

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Baker Street Café, home of the huge cinnamon buns

OPENING: Introducing Back Lane Café

NEWS FLASH: Summer Garden Party fundraiser in memory of Chef Kurt Waldele on August 28

WORTH THE DRIVE: Wendy’s Country Market offers gourmet food on a gravel road