Friday, October 15, 2010

Ross and Simon Fraser – Gold Medal Plates Competing Chefs

left to right: Ross Fraser and Simon Fraser

From their passion for food, unusual and exciting food experiences, appreciation of authentic dishes and having worked alongside some amazing chefs, it's no surprise that Ross and Simon Fraser have been successfully running Fraser Café for over a couple of years now. It's also no surprise to see them in the lineup for this year's Gold Medal Plates event.

Simple, seasonal, homemade ingredients that are widely used in their restaurant will fill the plates presented to the judges at Ottawa's Gold Medal Plates. Yet another reason I am insanely excited about the event. I had the pleasure of sitting down with them recently to learn more about them and their passion.

What's your philosophy when it comes to food and your restaurant?
Ross: “It comes from seasonal and simple foods, like local and sustainability. But it's really to do with a relaxed way of dining out. We put a lot of time and effort into keeping things simple and concentrate on flavours.”

Simon: “Fun and exciting. The excitement is provided by the open kitchen and the fun is the menu that changes, and it's not all about a crazy presentation, it's about what you're going to eat.”

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for the dishes that you create?
Ross: “The idea of having something different to make. We do everything from scratch, which a lot of restaurants do, but it's a challenge that keeps us motivated too. We make our own ice creams, breads and puff pastries, and it's usually one ingredient that comes in whether it's with the progression of the season or finding a new producer or supplier. But we don't try and re-invent, we'll do simple things like a Pogo but make it with a homemade batter and sauces.”

I know your menu changes often. What's your favourite dish and why?
Simon: “Part of the thing about the changing menu is that we always have, I wouldn't say a new favourite, but when you cook at home you don't cook the same thing every night of the week. So here, being a neighbourhood restaurant, not that everybody would, but if you did come in every night of the week, you would have something different to choose from. And it's a fresh, simple menu that changes with the seasons. So as for a favourite, maybe it's a new ingredient that we get excited about because it just tastes good, or one that's a challenge and fun to work with, and at that particular moment it will become my favourite.”

What's the ingredient you can't live without? (other than the staples)
Simon: “Is bacon a staple? It should be by now. Every chef says bacon should be considered a staple, so you don't have to pick it.”

Ross: “I would say I purposely don't have one because it goes with things that are changing and if you run out of something it's ok, *laughs* ‘we don't run out of things’, but it's adapting to what you have around you, which is part of cooking and why I enjoy it.

For an actual product, I know it's broad, but a nice piece of fresh fish. It could be salmon or trout or black cod or anything – if it's nice and cooked well, you can eat that all by itself.”

Is there anything you won't eat?
Simon: “I'll try anything once but... I'm not a huge fan of beef liver. Every time I've ever made it I'll try a piece and just re-affirm the fact that I wouldn't be able to eat an entire portion.”

Ross: “Likewise. Organs, like liver and kidneys. You just don't grow up with it so I think that's the difference.”

Simon: “Tripe actually. I ordered tripe once. It doesn't taste like anything, it's purely texture, but it was like chewing on a seat cushion. It was weird.

And I'm not a big fan of hot, spicy things. I'm always telling the guys to tone it down.”

Guilty pleasure?
Simon: “I like a good treat once in a while, like a sweet something.”

Ross: “Yeah, you've got a sweet tooth!”

Simon: “Peanut M&Ms. I could have an entire meal of peanut M&Ms... chocolate milk... doughnut... *laughs* they all count but I'll probably just go with peanut M&Ms.”

Ross: “I guess a poutine some nights.”

Simon: “You don't really have anything.”

Ross: “I like sandwiches.”

Simon: “Peanut butter and marmalade!”

Ross: “But that's not really guilty. I don't feel guilty about that.”

Simon: “Well you should. For a chef to be eating a toasted peanut butter and marmalade sandwich!”

Ross: “Toasted is the only way to eat it, and with crunchy peanut butter.”

What was your most memorable meal and why?
Simon: “Being in the food business you tend to have a couple of them. You know, it's hard to pinpoint. I had one recently at Eigensinn Farm, I'll never forget that. But that's an entire experience on it's own.

I frequently reference when I was working at Domus and John (Taylor) cooked a tasting menu that was all fish. Not the items on it but just the fact that it was five courses of fish and how good it was.”

Ross: “An absolutely unique experience was when I apprenticed with Michael and we took this bus out west and I was cooking these dinners with people like Tojo and Vikram Vij, and it was outdoors. Like the same sort of thing when you go to the farm, it's so unusual for a restaurant to be that different.”

Simon: “It's more like a food-related experience, more than a meal maybe for people like us.”

Ross: “That's right. At any moment you eat something that you thoroughly enjoy and it's great but when you ask a question like that we're thinking of the experiences that make them unique.

At the fish market in Japan there's a sushi bar, and you line up for half an hour. When you get in the chef just puts the food across the pass without really talking. The place is packed with only 10-12 seats, and it's 2 sushi restaurants with a wall down and the father is on one side, and his son on the other. You enter in the front and go out the back. So as you line up, whichever door opens first determines who will serve you. Everyone wants to go to the father's side because the son's a little cheaper and tighter with the ingredients, but the father, you know, he's done his thing and is more generous. And just being there with Michael (
) and his wife, and seeing that side of the restaurant – I always had this picture of Japanese food being very pristine and detailed, and then I get there and it's this guy working in the fish market – that's memorable for me – you realize it's not always all the little details.”

What would your last meal be?
Ross: “Peanut butter and marmalade sandwich. *laughs* I don't know if I like it that much.”

Simon: “Something from childhood maybe, you know, at the time it probably wasn't that good and it's probably not that good now, but... (has that comforting factor) ...not beef liver!”

Ross: “They have those books out with 100 chefs being asked what their last meal would be and you read one talking about truffled eggs with caviar and things like that and someone else picking the other side of it and saying things like a sandwich. But it's just kind of what you feel like. (For me) It wouldn't be anything too extravagant that's for sure.”

Simon: “$5 breakfast. Deep fried sausage links. That's one of my favourites. But I was contemplating whether I'd want breakfast as my last meal.” Confused. “I can't pick anything. It's too morbid a thought.”

If you could travel to just one place in the world for food, where would you go and why?
Simon: “Only because Ross has made it sound so good, I would contemplate going to Japan.”

Ross: “Deep sea fishing. I think it would add another connection to the mix. You know, you visit farms and things that are more accessible, but going out on the boats and really seeing what it takes to get the fish is the kind of experience you remember. Like Japan, Korea and Thailand, they approach food differently and it would be nice to have the real authentic flavours.”

Describe your perfect Sunday.
Simon: “A sleep in. And then a $5 breakfast. Maybe watch some cartoons with my son, although he's too old for cartoons now, so maybe I'll watch cartoons (by myself). And then if it was winter, I would play hockey with my son at the outdoor rink. Maybe a movie or a beer at a local pub. And dinner with my wife.”

Ross: “Sleep in a little bit (a lot a bit!). And then move to the couch for a nap. I haven't cooked at home in a while, and I'd go out for a lunch and dinner probably – not at the same time! Then a movie. Or sometimes I'll actually go have a nap in the park, which might be looked at a bit weird by some people but...”

What are your expectations for the Gold Medal Plates event?
Simon: “I've gone before with John Taylor's team from Domus, so if it's anything the same I kind of know what to expect, but more than anything I just hope it's a fun evening. We'll probably think we're making it simple but at the last minute our dish will end up more complex than what was originally thought of or planned out. Like the plating of it will be a little chaotic.”

Ross: “I've had a few different experiences with it. Last year I went just as a guest and another time, because I was with Michael Stadtlander and he was the national culinary advisor the first year, what he did was go to all of the events, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and cook a dish at a booth at each of them, and I went along with him. That was another good solid month of everything from borrowing people's kitchens in Toronto, to air shipments to Calgary... One night was in Halifax and I think the very next day was in Calgary – thank god we had the hour change on our side. So I kind of know what to expect little bit, but it'll be completely different actually cooking for our own restaurant. We're really looking forward to it.”

How do you prepare for a competition like Gold Medal Plates?
Ross: “Almost every chef who has been cooking for a certain period of time has things to draw from. From my understanding everyone makes their dish before the event gets going and those dishes are judged and the rest of the event you're just plating. So when you're making a dish for that, you want it to have a good mix of stuff that's easy to be done for 500 people.”

Simon: “Like our food here, I think we'll work more on flavour. It's got to look nice, but it'll be more about flavour, and a pleasure to eat.”

After the interview, I decided to come back for breakfast. I've had dinner here before and it was amazing. So I had the same hopes for breakfast.

I can't say I've ever been so torn by a breakfast menu. So many delicious options. I finally decided on the banana bread to start and the hot-smoked fish with mini bagels. Luckily my friend Gina was with me, which gave me another plate to try (you can never have too many things to eat!).

It was a chocolate banana bread, served warm and with toasty edges – not your typical moist, room temperature banana bread. We devoured every bite.

We shared our two mains, my heavenly smoked trout served with two mini sesame seed bagels, capers, cream cheese and onion, and Gina's huevos rancheros – two fried eggs covering a mound (sorry T!) of homemade black beans (or so we assumed they were so good) and a thick slice of fresh bread. And the slivers of pickled red onions crowning the top were a wonderful addition and very tasty.

Service was great and prices reasonable – ranging from $7 to $15.
7 Springfield Rd, Ottawa

Fraser Cafe 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


Marysol said...


what a fantastic interview!!! It made me smile so many times, it was pure pleasure to read.

If I had time, I would go eat there. Tonight. Tomorrow. and again next week.

treesaw said...

Moist and mound in the same post! Ack!

But nicely done on the interview!

One of Ottawa's Real Foodies said...

Agreed! This was great.