YOUNG GUNS ON THE OTTAWA FOOD SCENE
It’s a fortunate time for diners in Ottawa. There is an impressive array of restaurant options, some featuring the rising stars in our culinary scene who treat ingredients with care and consistently delight the guests they feed. Ottawa At
Home talked with three kitchen wizards under 30 who are making a big name for themselves thanks to a combination of inspiration and perseverance.
STEPHEN LA SALLE 27, THE ALBION ROOMS
This Ottawa native is single-handedly changing the perception of what it means to eat in a hotel restaurant. At the Novotel’s Albion Rooms, his Britishinfluenced food, contextualized within Ottawa’s vibrant artisan food scene, is drawing rave reviews. It’s also helping to cement Stephen’s reputation as one of the area’s most impressive chefs, so much so, that he has been invited to compete in the prestigious Gold Medal Plates competition in November.
A graduate of Algonquin College’s culinary program, he was inspired to pursue his chosen path while working at Lapointe’s restaurant in the ByWard Market as a teen. “I loved chatting with embassy chefs as they were doing their early morning shopping.”
Upon graduation, Stephen worked at ARC The Hotel and the Whalesbone, where he gained enough experience to be hired by the Novotel. “I have the best chef job in Ottawa, but it is very demanding. It was a big gamble for them to appoint someone so young to a position of such responsibility but I think it’s worked out well for everyone.” He credits the business skills he learned at culinary school for helping him deal with the administrative aspects of his position.
His advice to young chefs is to stage (train) in as many places as possible. “That’s how you make connections and it’s also the best way to keep on learning. Working with other chefs, whether in a kitchen or in a field at a fundraiser, is really inspiring.” Most importantly, he adds, is a constant desire to try new things. “I’m going to have a lot of fun playing with various elements as I prepare for Gold Medal Plates.”
29, K.W. CATERING AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA
Having grown up in Petawawa, Ian Carswell found his love of the kitchen lifestyle at Nippissing College, where he worked parttime at a family diner. After apprenticing in North Bay, Ottawa and Toronto, he went to Europe. “I had amazing experiences there, particularly at Helsinki’s Chez Dominique, ranked in the top 25 restaurants in the world. It was intense – I worked 100 hours a week but I learned so much.”
Ian landed at Absinthe Café when he returned to Ottawa and he moved next to K.W. Catering where he quickly rose to become executive chef. At just 29 years of age, Ian enjoys the responsibility of running the National Gallery ’s busy kitchen, serving up a blend of classical French cuisine with modernist touches. “I like dishes that are relatively simple, beautiful, and supremely flavourful. I enjoy the precision and efficiency of big events, but I also appreciate small dinners because I can take more time with each plate.”
As part of a local group of young chefs, it’s phenomenal for him to be participating in great fundraising dinners like the FLUX series and the Ottawa Humane Society’s Summer Harvest Garden Party. He advises other aspiring chefs to knock on doors to make things happen and to be patient. “You don’t have to do it all by the time you are 30 or even 40 – take time to enjoy each step along the way.” To that end, Ian is currently taking five months off to be with his young daughter. “Balance is key. I would love to have my own restaurant one day, but I’m not in a rush.”
JAMES BRATSBERG 28,
You know you’re doing something right when your eatery is one of 30 nominees for the 2014 Canada’s Best New Restaurants award from Air Canada enRoute magazine. Chef James Bratsberg is humbled by the nomination and determined to prove that MeNa, a gem on Preston Street, is deserving of the accolade.
His resumé is impressively lengthy for a 28-year-old chef. From Newmarket to Calgary to downtown Toronto, he accumulated extensive kitchen experience. A chance invitation to join a friend in Ottawa led to a job running the raw bar at E18hteen immediately prior to joining the MeNa team. “I love having full creative rein here as I present comfortable, French-inspired food using as many local ingredients as possible,” says James.
Working in Ottawa has proven to be a great fit. “Ottawa is like a big small town. There is a true sense of community among chefs and people are genuinely friendly, which I think helps the culinary scene as a whole. Chefs seem to be more open with each other about their ideas than in bigger cities like Toronto.”
James admits that the transition from brigade member to being the person in charge of the kitchen happened a little faster than he expected, but he is relishing the opportunities before him. “I love being part of such a young, energetic team here at MeNa – I think it’s amazing that at 28, I’m the oldest guy in the kitchen!”
“Ottawa is like a big small town. There is a true sense of community among chefs and people are genuinely friendly, which I think helps the culinary scene as a whole. Chefs seem to be more open with each other about their ideas than in bigger cities
JAMES BRATSBER, MDNA