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