By Somayyeh Montazer-Hojat
Edward Alvarez is a young aspiring chef making his way through some of Ottawa’s famous kitchens. Early on a sunny Saturday afternoon in March, I met with him to learn about his world and his impressions of the Ottawa food scene.
Edward started his career at El Camino where he worked under the mentorship of Jordan Holley, who is now the head chef at Riviera. After a year of culinary school, Edward needed to find out if the food industry was for him – being a chef was not an early childhood dream. A four month stage at Ottawa’s favourite taco restaurant turned into a yearlong job (several weeks of it in a foot cast), followed by another year at El Camino’s sister restaurant Datsun. There, he worked his way up from prep work to the raw station. In love with cooking and reassured about his career choice, he returned to school this fall to finish his studies.
“Ottawa is small… You get to work with great chefs and they recommend you to others”, which is how Edward found his current gig at Citizen. One night a week, as part of the restaurant’s Chef-in-Residence menu on Mondays, he helps mentor Mike Frank get customers excited about vegetables, sometimes disguised as meat in their clever dishes!
Working in a Kitchen
A typical Monday starts at noon, when Edward meets up with others in the kitchen and the menu is conceptualized and tested for that night. Any necessary changes are made before 5pm, along with taking pictures, printing menus, and minimal mise en place. They keep the kitchen open as long as there are customers in the dining hall, typically finishing around 1am. On the night we visited, the menu was inspired by Italian food, cleverly title Southside Luigi’s, a farce on the beloved chain restaurant East Side Mario’s. We especially enjoyed the ‘calamari’ dish–eggplant masquerading as seafood with marinara and lemon sauces for dipping.
School is where Edward experiments with food and techniques, mixing different styles of food in a single menu. He is excited about the endless possibilities that a dynamic field like cooking offers. Learning also happens at work, considerably through osmosis: “You learn through your mistakes and observing people like Marc and Lorie [owners of Town and Citizen] manage their restaurant”.
Ottawa food scene
The Ottawa food scene is typically described as “up and coming,” where the industry is slowly catching up to the customers’ desire for more variety in cuisine and restaurants. Edward agrees. Despite “a few gems in Chinatown,” he finds that Ottawa is especially lacking in Pan-Asian cuisine, particularly that of northern Thailand. His favourite dish from the region is khao soi, a soup made with wide rice noodles and variety of proteins in aromatic broth. Filipino food is another favourite – not only because it is the food that he grew up eating, but because it is jam-packed with flavour. The Spanish influence on Filipino cuisine sets it apart from its neighbours. Tamis Café in the Glebe is where he gets his fix for Filipino food, outside of his mom’s kitchen of course!
Edward hopes to own his own restaurant one day, but he is in no rush. For now, he is eager to work hard and learn about every aspect of the restaurant industry. He hopes that one day, he can use his creativity, history, and experiences to give customers a memorable experience. We all wish you luck, my friend.