Saturday, October 30, 2010

Meet a Gold Medal Plates Chef: Chef Steve Mitton of Murray Street

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.

Consider you are the well traveled son of parents who were stationed around the world while you were growing up. You were born in New Brunswick where you learned to speak Acadian French (le français acadien). You earned your degree in Germany, having spent 16 years of your life there (in 4 year intervals). You graduated from the Culinary Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island (PEI). Your girlfriend of 4 1/2 years and you are deciding where to settle in the world, she being a talented artist.

Ottawa was the lucky city chosen.

More than a decade later, it would be a strange twist of fate that Chef Steve Mitton (@murraystreetkwc) returned to the same building in which he began his culinary career. There, to open Murray Street Kitchen Charcuterie and Wine with fellow restaurant veteran Paddy Whelan. The restaurant would become very popular, offering Ottawa its first charcuterie bar.

Back in the day, 110 Murray Street was Bistro 115. A younger Patrick Garland (now chef/owner of Absinthe Cafe) was working for Chef John Taylor at the Maplelawn Cafe. The seeds for creating intelligent dishes from seasonal ingredients, sourced from local farmers were being sown.

Today, Chef Mitton's menu boasts an impressive array of farm-to-table dishes. Every one employs meat, fruit, and vegetable from a well researched community of local producers. Its fish plates are made with sustainable fin fish and shellfish from Ocean-Wise certified Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply (504-A Kent Street).

When we learned Chef Mitton had accepted the invitation to compete in this year's Gold Medal Plates competition, we were happy to volunteer to interview him. The wrinkle, local food bloggers have had a very difficult time, photographing Murray Street Kitchen's Executive Chef. He has an uncanny ability to shift, blurring photos. Very few of us have been able to shoot him smiling.

Enter Kym Shumsky (@relishing) of Le Mien. Kym, a very gifted photographer, generously agreed to let us interview him as she shot Chef Mitton for her 100-Strangers Project. He is number 39.

Here are our favourite shots from her shoot. his restaurant his restaurant's backyard patio

Kym is also a communications professional. Her supplemental questions made the photo shoot/interview very informal and a lot of fun.

What's your philosophy when it comes to food and your restaurant?
"Definitely head to", responded Chef Mitton.

Murray Street Kitchen serves "upscale takes" on family comfort food. It is food "your parents and their parents" should be able to recognize.

Accordingly, "'endearing' translates well on the plate."

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for the dishes you create?
"Seasons, farmers, and clients", said Chef Mitton.

He is passionate about farm-to-table. While he is extremely surprised by how successful his gamble on Murray Street Kitchen's menu has been, he believes the approach has "always been around." It is a way of life, not a passing fad.

In fact, it was Chef Mitton's Grandmother who imparted to him how to live sustainably. It was only when she passed away he realized she always had fresh vegetables in the house. She taught her grandson to shuck peas, peas that were freshly picked from the garden she tended.

I know your menu changes often. What's your favourite dish from the menu and why?
Murray Street Kitchen's menu is truly seasonal. There are actually few fixed entrees on the dinner menu. It is difficult to have a favourite.

Chef Mitton explained, "I used to love cooking duck. But, now I get [to play with] whole lambs and pigs."

Pressed, he admitted he enjoys just about "anything confit."

What's the ingredient you can't live without (other than basics)?
"Wood chips", said Chef Mitton.

He will smoke just about everything. He finds "[smoke] adds a familiar dimension to food."

In fact, Murray Street Kitchen is well stocked with apple wood from local Halls Apple Orchard.

During the interview, the kitchen received a delivery of several bushels of apples.

Is there anything you won't eat?
At first, Chef Mitton said, "There is 'nothing' he won't eat."

Then, after some thought, he added "Chef Boyardee...That, and dog food..."

Apparently, during her college years, Chef Mitton's wife, Sue, kept cans of Chef Boyardee lasagna in the household.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
Asking about guilty food pleasures resulted in a strange conversation about things mac 'n cheese.

Chef Mitton reluctantly answered, "Velveeta shells and cheese."

Seeing blank looks, he explained "pasta shells with 'squeeze cheese'."

Empirical evidence gathered by the chef himself has demonstrated a bowl is unusually effective in treating ailments related to "having one too many the night before", hangover food.

On that note, we asked Chef Mitton his favourite beer. Expecting something foreign, he surprised us with two Canadian beers: Beau's and Steam Whistle.

What was your most memorable meal and why?
All meals with friends and family are memorable.

Having turned forty recently, one dinner stands out. Friend and fellow chef Charlotte Langley (@charlotke) of the Whalesbone Oyster House came out to cottage country to prepare a 6 course meal to celebrate. It was spectacular.

The Whalesbone Oysterhouse is Chef Mitton's favourite restaurant in Ottawa.

Chef Langely is also competing in this year's Gold Medal Plates.

What would you last meal be?
"Anything but prison food", he laughed.

Chef Mitton then proudly told us his wife is a good cook, which is fortunate. He once critiqued her food, providing some constructive suggestions. She took it well when she started speaking to him again a month later.

That said, his last meal would be her lasagna.

He then jokingly added, "the one she learned to make from the 'canned stuff.'"

If you could travel to just one place in the world for food, where would you go and why?
"Cleveland, Ohio or Portland, Maine!"

Chef Mitton spends a lot of time researching restaurants. Cleveland and Portland are home to a lot of the favourites he has yet to eat in.

Describe your perfect Sunday.
  1. "Wake up"
  2. "Bridgehead coffee"
  3. "Urban Pear or Fraser Cafe for brunch"
  4. "Catch a movie or sit on the patio with Sue and a beer."

Chefs Ben Baird of The Urban Pear (151 Second Avenue, Unit C) and Ross and Simon Fraser of the Fraser Cafe (7 Springfield Road) are competing in this year's Gold Medal Plates.

Speaking of which, Chef Mitton is no stranger to the Gold Medal Plates culinary competition. He has competed three times before, each time while he was Executive Chef at Social Restaurant and Lounge (537 Sussex Drive).

For those who are newly attending the Gold Medal Plates event, how would you describe it? What can one expect?
According to him, the competition is "entirely up to [the competitor] how it will go." It can be chaotic if the competitor chooses to put out restaurant-style plates to the hundreds of attendees. Winning depends on impressing only 4-6 people.

How do you prepare for a competition like Gold Medal Plates?
Chef Mitton is preparing by considering his existing repertoire of dishes. From experience, it would be a bad idea to compete in events like Gold Medal Plates with new dishes. "You should be thinking about what you do best", he advised.

And, what Murray Street Kitchen does best is translate endearing on the plate.
Here is one weekday's track 06 (untitled) ($14) from the lunch menu

A generous slice of country terrine, served with cheddar soup

Fittingly served atop a board, shaped like a pig

Also from the lunch menu, the duck club ($14)

Mariposa farms duck, roasted garlic, and duck fat mayo salad with smoked breast an cranberry jam on Rideau Bakery brioche

It is served with Bryson farms greens.

From the new weekend brunch menu, the quiche (aka: egg pie) ($13)

Bekings eggs, mushrooms, leeks, potato crust, house ketchup

Also from the brunch menu, the smoked fish ($13)

Hot smoked Whalesbone fish with, fennel, and Paul's Cheese Biscuit

Facebook Page: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

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

Murray Street
110 Murray St
(613) 562-7244

Murray Street 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

No comments: