Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poached Eggs with Pistou on Toast

Not feeling like cooking anything crazy tonight? This breakfast-like dish makes a fantastic dinner – which is how my husband enjoyed it when he lived in Paris.

Start with a slice of toasted sourdough, followed by shaved parm, arugula and poached eggs. The pistou clumped on top is what makes it so great – basil, garlic and olive oil ground together with a mortar and pestle. Yum!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meet a Gold Medal Plate Chef: Chef Caroline Ishii of ZenKitchen

The following guest post continues a series of “Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef” interviews you will see leading up to the Gold Medal Plates Event in Ottawa. It's from the wonderful people at foodiePrints.


When I last visited ZenKitchen, I attended a launch party for co-owners Chef Caroline Ishii and Sommelier Dave Loan's reality show, The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline & Dave. Unfortunately, Jenn and I have been negligent in returning, but we jumped at the opportunity to interview these two dynamic personalities for Gold Medal Plates Ottawa. Chef Ishii was invited to compete, her team being the first vegan/vegetarian to be invited nationally. She is also one of two first ever female chefs to be invited to the Ottawa competition. The other, Chef Charlotte Langley of The Whalesbone Oyster House.

Co-Owners Chef Ishii and Sommelier Loan

Interviewing Chef Ishii means interviewing both she and her husband Loan. They inspire each other. Both, deeply invested in the success that is Ottawa's first fine food vegan restaurant. ZenKitchen was recently mentioned by Michael Kaminer in the Washington Post as one of the restaurants contributing to Ottawa's buzzing food scene. According to him, a number of them demonstrate "locavore-fueled creativity" that compare well with restaurants in San Francisco or Chicago. The restaurant recently received a prestigious 2010 Gold Restaurant Award of Excellence from Wines of Ontario for their wine list. Their 13 episode reality show has been picked up by the Asian Food Channel (in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand). The premier will air on October 25. Because of enormous demand, ZenKitchen has been serving Sunday brunch since July 18, but more on that later.

First, ZenKitchen's interior is an innovative use of salmon reds, mustard yellows, stained wood finishes and local art.

Dining Room

4-Seater Table

Everything makes the restaurant warm and inviting. Both Chef Ishii and Loan proudly told us the designer is an Ottawa local, Heidi Helm of Urbanomic Interiors.

Thanks to Ian Capstick, whose communications firm MediaStyle organized the launch of The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline & Dave, we were able to contact ZenKitchen for our "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Ottawa Chef" series. As we wrote before, Chef Ishii and Loan have vibrant personalities that reflect significant life experience. She, a former communications and marketing professional with an Executive MBA. He, a former political strategist. Both, a lovely couple. They will make very interesting competitors at Gold Medal Plates. They were very interesting to interview.

What's your philosophy when it comes to food and your restaurant?

"First of all, it's good food. It's gourmet, beautiful, delicious and nutritious", said Chef Ishii.

"It's also about sustainability", she added. Like other fine food establishments in the city, ZenKitchen has established a community of local suppliers that include Ottawa-area farms. The restaurant is Savour Ottawa accredited.

Then, she and Loan elaborated they want their restaurant to be a "great workplace for good people." They invest in their staff, encouraging creativities with once-a-month sessions to invent new dishes and try new techniques. Traditional culinary school does not readily equip graduates with experience in vegan cuisine. Many, rely heavily on cream or butter. At ZenKitchen, new graduates are offered the opportunity to work with whole foods. There are no refined products in the kitchen. They learn new techniques to produce textures and flavours with sometimes unorthodox ingredients. The kitchen is even equipped with a smoker.

Chef Ishii and Loan also want ZenKitchen to be more than "just a restaurant." They want it to be a part of the community. Interactions with customers, "keep them going." The chef herself can often be found in the front of house talking to patrons. Both she and Loan are receptive of criticism and actively seek their patrons' thoughts.

ZenKitchen is a place people come to celebrate their birthdays. It has seen a number of wedding proposals. In fact, Loan often consults, regarding which wineries to approach to source vegan and/or organic wines. He maintains a wine blog.

Recently, Chef Ishii and Loan started hosting "ZenKitchen Afterhours", turning the restaurant into a venue for local singers and musicians to share their music. The very first Afterhours showcased ZenKitchen's own staff. Though, Chef Ishii and Loan only sing in the kitchen.

This month, the walls of the restaurant are adorned with art work from painter Jess Weatherhead, the assistant farm manager of Roots and Shoots Farm in Manotick. According to ZenKitchen's September newsletter
Her paintings are vivid portrayals of farm life, and [they are] excited to show the work of someone who grows the produce we serve.

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for the dishes that you create?

"Anything and everything inspires me", said Chef Ishii, smiling. This includes forms, pictures, colours, nature, and her Japanese heritage.

"Dave and I trade ideas", she added. "[dishes] needs to be good and interesting."

At the same time, Chef Ishii and Loan told us they work to lower the barriers to trying new foods. One of their approaches is to take comfort foods people feel safe eating and make interpretations taking them "further" or adding a twist.

In fact, 90% of ZenKitchen's clientèle are not even vegetarian. Some are lactose intolerant. Some, wheat intolerant. Most, foodies. Many first-timers eat at the restaurant blissfully unaware their dishes are vegan.

I know your menu changes often. What's your favourite dish from your menus and why?

Chef Ishii and Loan like all their dishes. Particular favourites are the "Tapas Plates" ($7-$18) on the dinner menu. Currently, the plates include salad rolls, Halls' apple butter-mise dengaku tofu skewers, and sauteed edamame with togarashi.

Like ZenKtichen's top seller (the "Four Course Chef's Tasting Menu" ($48 without wine pairing)) the tapas plates expose a breadth of vegan foods to patrons. On the tasting menu is often kale chips or seitan risotto. Sometimes, squash risotto.

"Surprise and delight are really important in cuisine", said Chef Ishii and Loan.

Loan's favourite tapas plate is the sesame-crusted exotic mushrooms sourced from Le Coprin. "Mushrooms. I love mushrooms", he exclaimed.

It should be noted, tasting menus are what launched ZenKitchen. Originally, Chef Ishii and Loan operated a supper-club style business, holding monthly dinner events out of the former Chelsea Pub. They were always sold out, attracting 40-80 people at any time.

What's the ingredient you can't live without? (other than basics)

Chef Ishii listed sea salt after some thought. Then, she added, "Miso, I use it a lot." Miso figures prominently in her kitchen as it adds umami to dishes.

Is there anything you won't eat?

Chef Ishii gave us a knowing look and said "I can't say. I'll try anything. I'm a curious person. If I eat meat or fish, I try to eat [sustainable]." She is very well traveled. Like us, she grew up with Asian cultural influences. She will try just about anything, a sentiment Jenn and I know well.

Loan is a vegetarian. He won't eat "anything with a face." Later he added, "or anything with a mother."

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Chef Ishii and Loan can't keep potato chips in the house. She likes chips and fries, preferring savoury over sweet. He is the same.

What was your most memorable meal and why?

"I have two", said Chef Ishii.

The first one is Atelier Restaurant (540 Rochester Street). "It's surprising; out of the box. It's creative, [and] it's fun", she described.

The other is Millennium Restaurant (580 Geary Street, San Francisco). Accordingly, "It's one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the world. It's in San Fransisco [and] it's where I trained."

In addition, Loan also mentioned the Millenium cookbooks feature contemporary vegetarian cuisine. The second one, The Artful Vegan was co-authored by local chef, Bruce Enloe, who operates the The Branch Restaurant (15 Clothier Street E., Kemptville).

Chef Ishii warned, the Millenium cookbooks are "challenging", something an event chef would have in his/her library.

What would your last meal be?

Chef Ishii said "It would definitely have rice with it." Perhaps with some natto (fermented soy beans) and a pickle. She finds okaisan (a rice gruel that is similar to congee) with pickled preserved plumb comforting when under the weather.

Almost predicting the next interview question, she added "I would [also] go to Tokyo to have a bowl of ramen noodles."

Loan responded "'a hole in the wall' Mexican [restaurant] in Santa Barbara." It is somewhere they visited on their travels. It served fresh, hand pressed tortillas, with fillings made from local and seasonal ingredients.

If you could travel to just one place in the world for food, where would you go and why?

For Chef Ishii, there are still many parts of Asia she would like to visit, including several in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. But, she highly recommends a kaiseki meal in Japan. A kaiseki meal is a traditional multi-course meal that features dishes that borrow from temple foods. Many are vegetarian.

For Loan, he would go to Nee York. According to him, "There is so much happening there. In vegetarian cuisine alone, they are 10 years ahead of Ottawa." He particularly recommends the HanGawi Restaurant (12 E 32nd Street,

New York), mentioning its pumpkin porridge. "It is a beautiful location", he said.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

This one, we'll recount word for word.

Together: "Sleep in!" (Laughs)

Loan: "Go for a nice easy brunch at Rochester Pub." (502 Rochester Street)

Chef Ishii: [Then] run, ski, bike. I love being in nature.

Together: Nap in the afternoon!

Loan: "Movie and then dinner."

Then they explained tongue in cheek, they would "talk shop" throughout their day together.

What are your expectations for the Gold Medal Plates event?

Chef Ishii expects the event to be high pressure as "chefs are hardest on themselves" and every invitee will need to "present the best possible image of their restaurants." Though, she also thinks it will be "a lot of fun."

She and her staff will try to "stretch the boundaries of what can be plated." As always, she will focus on creative and unique dishes she hopes will surprise and delight.

Regarding expectations, Chef Ishii said, "Take away bison, elk, duck, butter, and cream...And, people are likely wondering what are we going to do for Gold Medal Plates. It's a great challenge for us. I think we were invited because we're different."

It will be business as usual she explained. Chef Ishii and her kitchen enjoy the challenge of "not just doing vegan, but doing vegan well." They have recently innovated a vegan whipped cream for instance.

How do you prepare for a competition like Gold Medal Plates?

ZenKitchen has a menu "process." Chef Ishii and Loan often "bounce ideas off of each other."

They talk with patrons. At the same time, Chef Ishii's cooks and chefs collaborate on developing tasting menus during their one day per month cooking sessions.

During recent sessions, they have been working on Gold Medal Plates dishes. To date, they have nothing solid yet.

But, their recent participation in Feast of Fields was a proof of concept event that helped them develop the required line and prep to serve the number of expected attendees at Gold Medal Plates.

According to Loan, "We did a rehearsal at Feast of Fields in terms of serving a lot of people."

As an example of ZenKitchen working to expand people's thinking through their palates, here are dishes Jenn and I had for Sunday brunch prior to the interview.

Blueberry Scones

Scone with Local Strawberry Jam

They were warm, slightly dense, but delicious. Topped with local strawberry and wild blueberry jam, each bite of scone provided the expected rich flavour and textural counterpart.

Jenn ordered the buckwheat pancakes ($14). They came with maple syrup, house sausage, and fresh fruit (wild and regular blueberries, blackberries, green apples, black plum, peaches in blueberry juice, grand marnier, and maple syrup).

Buckwheat Pancakes

The pancakes were fluffy and satisfying. The fresh fruit we would later learn came straight from the Ottawa Farmer's Market that morning.

I ordered the ZenBurger platter ($14) with that day's roasted tomato soup. The burger patty is made with smoked shiitake mushrooms and walnuts. The bun is likewise vegan, baked by FNG Italian Bakery.


Roasted Tomato Soup

The burger was a little loose in texture, but its flavour more than compensated, exploding with savoury and smoke. My tomato soup was earthy sweet, every bite a taste of autumn. The soup came with pumpkin seeds, which provided a lovely nutty crunch.

My order was accompanied by a cup of "I Deal Coffee" coffee ($3) and something for my burger.


Soy Creamer and House Chili Ketchup

Chef Ishii and Loan had us try the house kimchi.


We found it tasted more like a spiced sauerkraut, very clean and very refreshing.

While we declined dessert, Loan insisted we finish our brunch with their black rice pudding with fruit compote.

Fruit Compote

Rice Pudding

ZenKitchen's rice pudding was the best we've ever had. Every rice granule still retained some chew. It was comforting, enriched with coconut milk. The fruit compote with cranberries was a refreshing change to the usual sultana raisins. It was sweet, but not overly so.

If this is the fare ZenKitchen serves for Sunday brunch, we are more than interested in trying their tasting menu for dinner.

Many thanks to Chef Ishii and Loan for their time. Good luck this November at Gold Medal Plates.

Facebook Page: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

To purchase tickets for Gold Medal Plates, contact Sue Holloway (contact information below) or click here.


634 Somerset Street W., Ottawa

ZenKitchen on Urbanspoon

Gold Medal Plates Ottawa
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 6:00 pm
National Arts Centre
53 Elgin Street

Sue Holloway
818 Nesbitt Place
(613)274-3107 phone
(613)274-0851 fax

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oh Comforting Fall

Lately I've been feeling a lot like moving to a warmer climate. I just love our hot summer days so much. But this past weekend reminded me how much I love our cool days too. Cozy sweaters, crackling fireplaces, and best of all, comfort food and red wine.

My friend Zoya really knows how to do it right. Although we did bring Indian food last Friday night to her place, there wasn't much time she spent out of the kitchen the rest of the weekend. Starting the Saturday with a duck and tarragon frittata, and ending it with a slow-cooked beef pot roast.

The beef was drizzled in a reduced port jus, and served with beets, potatoes and roasted garlic for spreading on toasted baguette. Arugula salad with slices of fresh local apples and mandarin oranges added a beautiful punch of colour to the setting.

We had a lot of delicious wine between Friday and Saturday night. But the two that stood out and deserve the most praise are the ones Zoya chose for her meal – the 2006 Backsberg Pumphouse Shiraz from South Africa and the Napa Valley 2007 Irony Cab Sauvignon. Both perfect pairs for hearty dishes. So much so that after the meal, when we still had a few sips of wine left, Zoya made a last minute molten chocolate cake to go with it. Heaven.

Monday, September 27, 2010


My friend Zoya has a weakness for Indian food. Seeing as we were heading up to Tremblant for her birthday, I figured surprising her with her favourite food was a must.

I would not say that I know much, if anything, about Indian food. I wanted to get her something different though, something that would wow her. So, with numerous recommendations, I decided to take a Sri Lankan approach. And it worked. Not only was she in awe, but also impressed at how different each dish tasted from one another.

I spent almost 20 minutes on the phone with the chef at the Somerset location beforehand – discussing the dishes and what would be the best ones to get. The conversation had my mouth watering and as a result, ordering more than we needed. But that's ok. We ended up with our own buffet at home – so fun. And this food makes great leftovers.

We started off with Kadali Vadai, fried patties of spicy lentil and urid dhal (similar to falafels) and served with a spicy green chutney.

I found the Vegetable Thali to be a fantastic option on the menu as it allows you to savour so many wonderful dishes, six to be exact. I grabbed two orders of this which gave me more than 6 different dishes and doubles of others. Each curried vegetable was to die for. The selection changes with the season but in this particular case we got the chick peas, an insanely delicious bean dish, a sweet and spicy squash dish that was my personal favourite, yummy cabbage, creamed spinach, eggplant, potatoes with sauce, and mixed veg. This also came with steamed Basmati rice.

I fell in love with the Curried Shrimp bathing in a creamy coconut sauce. And the Tandoori Chicken was also very nice, roasted and marinated in Ceylonta's dry tandoori spices.

Another one of my personal favourites was the Beef String Hopper Kothu. Thin strips of noodles and chopped beef stir-fried with a fine blend of onions, herbs and spices. Sooooo good. And also not too spicy so it gave your palate a bit of a break. Although I know my friend and I know she likes things very hot, which is why I ordered a side of Katta Sambol – a mixture of coarsely ground red chillies, chipped Maldive's dried fish and onions in lemon juice that is very HOT. It's meant to be added to your dishes to give them more spice, but some crazy people can eat it as is. For us wimps, there's the Ceylonta Style Chutney, a milder hot sauce made from blended coconut, chili and lime, which is also a very nice complement to the dishes.

And of course, who could forget the Nan Bread and Roti, which slop up all the amazing sauces on your plate.

I didn't take a picture of everything. These aren't the easiest dishes to make look pretty. But believe you me, it was very satisfying. Although I did eat the next day, I didn't really have to.

If the service in the restaurant is as good as it is over the phone, you're sure to have a great, memorable lunch or evening dinner. Apps range from $2 to $5 and mains $10 to $17.

403 Somerset Street West, Ottawa

Ceylonta on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Roasted Beet Salad

My favourite salad in the world is a beet salad. There's something so wonderful about the combination of beets and goat cheese. It's like the two were meant for each other.

My husband put together this visually pleasing path of colours and textures. At one end of the plate, discs of beet and pear crowned with clumps of goat cheese and toasted pecans. At the other, tangy orange segments and fresh tomato over a bed of peppery arugula. A citrusy dressing was used all over – orange, red wine vinegar, olive oil, dijon, sugar, salt and pepper.

I could seriously eat this every day and not get bored.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Caffé Zucchero Espresso Bar

Given that this family-owned Italian eatery is only a 15 minute walk from my house, I'm surprised this was my first visit. It's quite charming inside, lots of beautiful sunshine beaming in, and super friendly staff with perma-smiles even through the busiest lunch hour (be sure to show up 15 minutes before noon or when the tables turn over just after 12:30). They also offer takeout.

For a lunch spot, I was surprised at the size of the menu – selections of soup, salad, pasta, pizza, panini. Even omelets offered during lunch (they do breakfast as well).

I opted for the vegetarian pizza and salad that came highly recommended by my friend Amy. It was amazing. The dough was so soft and airy, it looked thick but wasn't too heavy at all. The tomato sauce on it was delish and the toppings plentiful. Fresh crisp romain filled the plate below the two slices and was topped with chopped red and green peppers and their yummy house vinaigrette.

The homemade treats lining the front cash area beg to be taken home with you – I left with two biscotti and two squares. They even have Gelato!

This cozy café is open weekdays from 8am to 3pm. Apps range from $4.25 to $5.50 and mains from $8.75 to $10.95.

Caffé Zucchero
340 Queen Street, Ottawa

Caffe Zucchero on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Camping Meals

After a brutal two weeks of work-work-work, my brain needed a little TLC. And for me, there's no better way to do that than to get as far away from technology as possible.

My husband and I spent the weekend on Lac La Pêche, one of Gatineau Park's canoe-camp sites. It was amazing. We basically spent the entire time relaxing and eating.

Our first night there we kept it simple, charcuterie and cheeses, perfect.

The next morning my husband made his camping specialty – boiled omelets.

Simply chop some onions, ham, green pepper and cheese and add it to some eggs in a ziploc bag and immerse it in boiling water.

What comes out is a light and fluffy omelet, cooked to perfection (now that's what I call roughing it!). Some scones heated over the flame and you've got a pretty fancy breakfast.

Even a deer came by to join us for breakfast. Only she snacked on the lily pads.

For dinner my husband cooked some spicy pork and beef hamburgers over the campfire. Then we dressed them with onion, tomato, relish and mustard.

I was so excited about our side of beans that were labeled brown sugar and bacon! Alas, the disappointment of not finding one sliver of bacon in the whole can. I was like a kid with a cracker jack box hunting for my treasure. I was sure they would have had at least one chunk, like they do with the pork in the molasses one. Not so.

For dessert we stuck some dark chocolate with sea salt inside marshmallows and heated them to a golden crust. That was pretty decadent.

The next morning we had beans again, but this time with wieners and some leftover savoury scones. A nice filling breakfast to get us through the short 45 minute canoe ride home.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


When I saw this new restaurant on Elgin Street, I wasn't sure what to expect. Then my husband told me about a few people we knew who had gone and absolutely loved it. So I decided I'd better check it out. Score one for me on that decision!

We had the table right in the front with a great view of passers-by from one angle, and the hustle-bustle of the jam-packed restaurant on the other. This place has not stopped hopping since the day it opened it's doors. And for very good reason. The outstanding service, mouthwatering food and unique music collection are equally amazing. The playlist is actually put together by music aficionado Stephen Flood, owner of The Black Tomato.

The menu has a selection of small plates that can also be served as an app to one of the 3 main courses up for grabs. Simple dishes but made with so much care, leaving you in awe.

After my glass of Prosecco, our food began to arrive. A delicious bottle of Primitivo kept us hydrated through each course – Criteria, Schola Sarmenti, Puglia, Italy, 2007.

First a selection of olives decorated with crisp slivers of pickled fennel and scattered segments of orange.

Then one of my favourite – tuna crudo, velvety smooth and topped with rich truffle oil and lemon. Delicate strips of shaved coppa were draped neatly over each slice, and a sprinkling of mint and chives crowned the top.

Our golden crumbed cod fritters bathed in a seductively smokey pork ragu, while a tangy lemon mayo cascaded the tops.

Our server said the meatballs were a must and he was right. Every perfectly round ball stuffed generously with ricotta and sitting neatly on heavenly soft polenta and then smothered in fresh san marzano sauce and sprinkled with parm.

The lamb ragu was the perfect comfort food for a cool fall evening. Large pappardelle noodles interleaved with meaty lamb, corn, yellow foot chantrelle and grated pecorino romano.

We relish in my friend Dino's ricotta gnudi, soft as pillows and better than anything any of us had had in the past. I swear he was having minor heart palpitations after his first bite.

We had some wine left in our glasses so a chocolate dessert was a must. Blissfully silky chocolate budino with whipped cream and granola made with dried cranberries, chocolate covered espresso beans and walnuts.

This is the kind of place you want to make a regular. And the prices make it easy to do so – small plates range from $5 to $15 and mains $20 to $25. It's so nice to have such a great spot on Elgin.

296 Elgin St
Ottawa, ON

Town on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 17, 2010

Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef: Chef Charlotte Langley of The Whalesbone Oyster House

The following guest post continues a series of “Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef” interviews you will see on the Fridays leading up to the Gold Medal Plates Event in Ottawa. It's from the wonderful people at foodiePrints. Great post Jenn!

For this installment of “Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef”, Don and I visit
The Whalesbone Oyster House (430 Bank Street), a restaurant he refers to a “compelling eatery.

Whalesbone Oyster House

It is our recommend for seafood in Ottawa. There, we met Chef Charlotte Langley.

Chef Langley

We returned that evening for dinner. But, more on that later...

Arriving several minutes before Chef Langley did, we began realizinghow rich Whalesbone's dining room really is.

Dining room with Open Kitchen

The restaurant is always packed, its no more than two dozen seats constantly turning over, its book always full. During dinner service, the restaurant is a sea of people. For instance, you will never see the bar in its entirety.

Bar Every seat is coveted, usually spoken for.

Walk-ins vie for the next empty one. But, next time you visit Whalesbone, we encourage you to look around. You may catch glimpses of the...

Mounted bicycle when you walk in

Framed shucker's tools?

Painted driftwood affixed to the exposed brick

Genuine whale vertebrae above the specials chalkboard, behind the wood whale skeleton

Stubbies on the top shelf above the record player

It's an eclectic collection of stuff that seems randomly assembled, but somehow goes together. We had to wonder, is it the restaurant's decor that makes the WhalesboneOyster House the great place it is to eat at? Maybe it's the music. This restaurant has an extensive collection of vinyl records from Corey Hart to Boston, Annie Lennox, and other great artists, spanning several decades.


It was an electric 70s night when Don and I bellied up to the bar. Maybe it's the amazing food, made by a skilled and thoughtful kitchen. Or prehaps it is the the chef. Sitting for our interview, we quickly discovered Chef Langley is full of energy, full of life. She is someone who lives at the edge of one moment, eagerly awaiting the next. Perhaps her staff and patrons feed off her incredible energy.

What's your philosophy when it comes to food and your restaurant?
"A la minute, whatever comes in that day." The Whalesbone Oyster House serves sustainable (Ocean-Wise certified) fin-fish and shellfish with local ingredients, as much as possible.

Whalesbone Fish and Oyster Supply

Swiss Chard

And, there isn't anything more local than garden-grown. A garden is what part of the Whalesbone Fish and Oyster Supply's (504 A Kent) parking lot became this summer, complete with irrigation. With everyone at both the restaurant and "workshop" tending to it, the garden has
been very successful. In fact, all the tomatoes the restaurant uses come from the garden. The garden's produce has become an "important" supply line. Chef Langley has not had to source tomatoes once this summer from local farmers.

Later on during the interview, we learned she is friends with the Chef/Co-Owner of Murray Street Kitchen (110 Murray Street), a fellow Gold Medal Plates competitor. Murray Street Kitchen is another of Don's "compelling" eateries. At any given time, you may find Chefs Langley and Mitton's products on each other's menu. Several months ago, Whalesbone salt cod was part of Murray Street Kitchen's dishes. At the same time, Whalesbone worked with Murray Street Kitchen's heritage pork bratwurst.

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for the dishes that you create?
"People," Chef Langley suggested. "Our guests and the [available] products themselves." Accordingly, she likes to keep her ingredients as intact as possible. "Keep it simple", she said. With this in mind, she does cater to her patrons who order the restaurant's four course tasting menu. "The tasting menu is done 'on the fly'", she said. From day to day, the tasting menu is unique. Based on how the servers "read guests", she lets them guide her and her hardworking kitchen what dishes she prepares with ingredients on hand.

I know your menu changes often. What's your favourite dish and why?
While she didn't have a specific favourite dish, she did talk excitedly about an 86lb bigeye tuna that she butchered the night before we interviewed her. Incredibly fresh and "beautiful ruby red" fleshed, she plated the tuna with 3 types of melon, crème fraiche, cucumber, vanilla truffle, coarse salt, and lemon. It was the special that evening ($20).

Bigeye Tuna Appetizer Special, sashimi-Style

Ruby red flesh

Don has eaten a lot of sashimi, BC salmon is his favourite. That night, he exclaimed he understood why tuna sashimi is so prized.

What's the ingredient you can't live without? (other than basics)
After some thought and some laughs, she responded, "fresh fennel and celery." "And, bourbon!", she added. Bourbon isChef Langley's "go to" ingredient when she cooks. It goes "remarkably well" with many different dishes.

Is there anything you won't eat?
With a big laugh, she said, "Oatmeal! I hate oatmeal." She will however, eat an oatmeal cookie, just not an actual bowl of oatmeal itself. As a child, her dad made it everyday for breakfast, After some thought, she decided that she might consider eating a bowl of oatmeal "with Bailey's. Maybe."

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
"Chips. I love chips." While she will readily eat any flavour of chip, she regrettably admits she is addicted to dill pickle chips with dill pickle dip.

What was your most memorable meal and why?
"I've two!" The first was her last meal at Vancouver, British Columbia's "C" Restaurant, the first restaurant Chef Langley worked at. Then, she worked for celebrated Chef Rob Clarke, "one of Canada's best chefs." He prepared a 9 course tasting menu, that was served in a dining room, overlooking the ocean. With classic French service, the meal lasted 5 to 6 hours. Her second was a private dinner at Ottawa's Courtyard Restaurant, celebrating a good friend's birthday. There, "Michael pulled out all the stops." Chef Michael Hay served a 15 course meal that she described as spectacular.

What would your last meal be?
"I hate this question", she exclaimed, but "I have thought about it." "Really good classic French bread with foie gras pate." "Or something made by my father." And, she addedafter a chuckle, "But, NOT oatmeal."

If you could travel to just one place in the world for food, where would you go and why?
"France!" Lately, Chef Langley has become very fond of French cuisine, specifically "simple French country cuisine." Accordingly, she prefers "back country French, very classic" over "Michelin star" food. Examples she gave included cassoulet, pate, and crusty bread.

Describe your perfect Sunday.
"CBC Radio, coffee with Bailey's, a bike ride, a visit to the farmer's market, a tomato salad with friends, champagne, and disco at the end."

For those who are newly attending the Gold Medal Plates event, how would you describe it? What can one expect?
"Fast and furious!" It is an intense event with an odd number of calm periods. Having competed with Chef Steve Wall, Whalesbone's former chef, at a previousGold Medal Plates event, Chef Langley feels it is nice to see chefs competing "at that level." For her, it is "super fun" and she is currently building her 7-9 member team. She is aiming to create an all-star all female team.

How do you prepare for a competition like Gold Medal Plates?
"Get some rest, get excited, get motivated, get ideas." For the event itself, she wants to "keep it fun." It is very important to Chef Langley the event not become obsessively competitive. "I'll probably figure out what I'll make the week before." "Though sitting a judge or two down with a glass of wine to ask them how they judge dishes wouldn't hurt", she said tongue-in-cheek.

Many thanks to Chef Langley for her time and also to Junior Pastry Chef Lynne Frappier for helping us to arrange this interview. As the interview came to an end, Chef Langley declared, "Today is a Rolling Stones day" and cranked up the volume. As we walked out the door, we could hear Whalesbone's kitchen working on prep for dinner service to the stylings of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Now, onto dinner... After we left Chef Langley and her kitchen to prep for evening service, we went to a coffeehouse to compile our notes. Don surprised me later that evening by taking me back to the restaurant for dinner. Having previously eaten there a few times with friends, he was determined I experience what The Whalesbone Oyster House is all about.

The bar may have some of the best seats in the house. Watching the people behind the bar, shucking oyster after oyster, is astounding. We remarked at the speed, the precision and the expertise required to shuck oysters, smelling each one to ensure freshness. With our bread, Don asked the bar for two of their best oysters of the night.

He received a pair of freshly shucked mallets from New Brunswick ($2.50 each).


That Evening's Oysters


For appetizers, we picked both a first, the corn chowder ($9).

Corn Chowder

With fleuron blue cheese, white truffle oil, andbasil, the corn chowder was warm, rich, seasonal and delicious. For me, it was the best corn chowder I had ever tasted. Afterward an appetizer of Newfoundland sardine terrine ($13) was place before us. It was a surprise from Chef Langley.

Sardine Terrine

The terrine was wrapped with swiss chard and was served on a medley of fresh beans, dried beans, corn, double smoked bacon, mustard and verjus. Don loved it, saying forget the canned stuff. I didn't trust him. I find sardines very fishy.

Don's main was the special (above). Mine, the pork belly and Qualicum bay scallops ($29).

Pork belly and Scallops

With apple sauce, split peas, snap peas, kale, cabbage and wild mushrooms, I enjoyed the dish. Don't let the scallops fool you, they weren't over seared. They were perfectly done inside, moist and delicate. Total: $79.38 (with one cranberry juice, after taxes, but before tip).

To borrow a very corny line (Don's fault), Chef Langley, you've caught another fan, hook, line and sinker...

Whalesbone's coat hooks, shaped like fishing hooks

Facebook Page: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

To purchase tickets for Gold Medal Plates, contact Sue Holloway (contact information below) or click here.

430 Bank St
(613) 231-8569

Whalesbone Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Gold Medal Plates Ottawa
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 6:00 pm
National Arts Centre
53 Elgin Street

Sue Holloway
818 Nesbitt Place
(613)274-3107 phone
(613)274-0851 fax