Ottawa Cooks has been a long time coming – not only because it is the 5th book in Figure One Publishing’s series, but also because the culinary scene in Ottawa is only now reaching its full potential.
As a food and restaurant critic working in Ottawa for more than twenty years, admits that the options haven’t always been as exciting or diverse as they are today. For decades, Ottawa has been overshadowed by what was going on in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. But Ottawa Cooks makes the argument that this is no longer the case.
As author of three capital dining restaurant guides, long time food writer for the Ottawa Citizen, and a judge of the Canadian Culinary Championship, DesBrisay is the perfect candidate to put such a book together and prove to the world that Ottawa is more than just the Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, and Beaver Tails. This is, after all, the city with the most shawarma restaurants per capita than any other city this side of Lebanon.
“Ottawa Cooks is more than just a cookbook. It tells a story through recipes, portraits and words.”
DesBrisay, as the writer and curator of Ottawa Cooks, describes the book as “celebration of the Ottawa culinary scene. It tells a story through recipes, portraits, and words. It’s a snapshot of what life is like here and now.” And if this book is any indication of the kind of experiences one can have in this city, we have no reason to fret. From haute couture dining, to cafes, bistros and food trucks, this unique collection showcases a slice of life of the gastronomic scene in our nation’s capital city. It aims to be many things at once: a spotlight on over 40 local chefs, a restaurant guide to the most exciting options the city has to offer, and also a straight-up cookbook for anyone looking to make some amazing dishes at home.
As I flipped through the book, an unexpected joy came from seeing the work of photographer Christian LaLonde, who was able to breathe life into the dishes and put human faces on the people who created them. It’s obvious this is a book about people and places as much as it is about food, and LaLonde ties it all together with his beautiful photography.
As a restaurant critic, DesBrisay had spent most of her career flying under the radar, writing anonymously, and generally trying not to draw too much attention to herself. With Ottawa Cooks, she was forced out of the culinary closet into the spotlight, meeting with dozens of her favourite chefs from around the city and reaching out to them for interviews, biographies, and recipes. I was curious whether the chefs would be hesitant about parting with the recipes near and dear to their heart, but DesBrisay said that actually the opposite was true. “I was delighted by how keen they were to share their most cherished recipes.” She told me the most difficult part was working with the chefs to ensure that their star recipes would be accessible to the at-home chef.
She wanted the recipes and stories in the book to inspire people, help them discover the hidden chefs within themselves, and point them toward unforgettable dining experiences around the city. Judging from the enthusiastic the book has received thus far, it seems Ottawa Cooks has accomplished those goals and more.