By Shawna Wagman
This article appears in the Interiors edition of Ottawa Magazine, on newsstands now.
Chef Jamie Stunt competes in the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna on Friday, Feb. 8 and Saturday, Feb. 9, competing against the gold medal winners from nine other cities from Vancouver to St. John’s.
YAK TATAKI. Yak tataki. When I first spotted those two words on the menu at Oz Kafe four years ago, I couldn’t wait to say them out loud: yak tataki, yak tataki, yak tataki.
They are the kinds of words that a food writer dreams about — playful, whimsical, and deliciously unusual. They make you laugh, perhaps salivate, and dream. In a job that constantly battles against boring, repetitive, predictable menus and the constraints of the English language (how many ways can we talk about a great steak?), this dish was already infused with the makings of a great story, and I was determined to find it.
I mean, who has the nerve to serve yak in Ottawa? And how in the world did the chef get his hands on fresh yak meat? I would soon discover that a herd of Tibetan yaks was roaming the wilds of the Ottawa Valley.
When the plate arrived, the meat was just barely seared, thinly sliced, and topped with anchovy mayo and bacon breadcrumbs. It was not the kind of dish I had expected to find in a meat-and-potatoes government town, but there it was — all crimson and succulent and drenched with soul-satisfying umami.
The dish had been prepared by Jamie Stunt, the creative young chef I had pegged a few years earlier as one of the city’s culinary up-and-comers. The restaurant where Stunt cooks is the late-night crash pad for fellow cooks, who swing by after their shifts to fuel up on smoked duck poutine and spicy grilled beef lettuce wraps.