I was looking for restaurants in Ottawa who source local food for their menus, and I came across Chef Stephen Vardy of the Black Cat Bistro. I was fortunate enough to sit down with him for a few moments to ask him ...
(Photo Credit to Canwest Media via The Ottawa Citizen)
After the Harvest(ATH): I noticed that you source a lot of local food for your menu....
Chef Stephen Vardy(SV): We source locally as as much as we can -- local’s become a bit of a trend but it should be the mainstay. We use local wherever and whenever we can but that is not always possible in winter. "Our restaurant is not marketed as Ottawa Valley Cuisine -- we don't preach, we do the best we can. Being in Canada is about using international influence -- Canada is a United Colours of Benneton". At the Black Cat we try to fuse local and international. We don't want to ignore ingredients such as olives, lemons, avocados etc. After all, Canada started out trading internationally; we traded salt cod for rum with Jamaica for instance.
ATH: What is your earliest food memory?
SV: "Escargot, 2 years old." It was in St. John's Newfoundland at The Battery Hotel. I think escargot is popular with kids because of the garlic butter taste, but also the texture is kid-friendly.
ATH: What is your favourite thing on the Black Cat Bistro menu right now?
SV: "Definitely the octopus." This octopus is different from most people’s experiences with octopus. It is around 15 lbs and we buy it live from the Pacific coast. Usually it is bought cooked and cut in a scissoring motion. It is tougher that way, not as tender. Buying it live and cooking it was a really educational experience. We braise it at a really low temperature 180 degrees, the whole process is done in house. We also add wine corks in while it's braising -- this tenderizes the meat. At the end of the whole process, it is grilled and sliced. We've gotten an amazing response from the grilled flavour.
ATH: If you didn’t become a Chef, what else do you think you might be doing?
SV: "I'd either be a Sailor or a Fisherman ....or a Mechanic if I had to be landlocked."
ATH: I read that you once cooked for the Rolling Stones – how has music influenced your life or your experiences as a Chef?
SV: "Music is a big part of a lot of cooks’ lives." It is played in the kitchen during prep and it keeps us focused. Right now we're listening to a lot of classic rock, country rock, Lynard Skynard, CCR and Kings of Leon.
I was lucky to sit down with one of Ottawa's top chefs and I look forward to seeing how he continues to fuse local and international flavours in his culinary career. It is somewhat refreshing to hear a chef's point of view that includes local food but is also honest about not excluding ingredients that may not be local, but add to the flavour profiles of his dishes. Thanks, Chef!
*answers compiled from point-form notes, only what is in direct quotes are words verbatim from Chef Vardy himself.