As the last weekends of the sugar bush season turn into the first weeks of cottaging, we find all the best reasons to spend time with friends: incredible food and drink in a relaxing environment. There is a casual fine dining oasis in the Byward Market that brews its own beer, makes its own hot sauce, and sources ingredients from the local producers, even from the Market’s own fruit and vegetable stands.
I can’t help but think of area food pilgrimages like to Les Fougeres or L’Oree du Bois and feel immediately transported to a familiar place as I walk through the doors. It is a place where all are welcome and all are about to be embark on a different take on that old familiar feeling.
The place I speak of is Lowertown Brewery.
And the secret behind why Lowetown Brewery is doing everything right is their exceptional young chef, Chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx.
A rising star in the Ottawa food world, Chef Kyle’s dedication to doing food right, in the right way and for the right reasons has been his calling card for success.
Recently, we sat down with Chef Kyle and discussed his approach to cooking.
Apt613: How would you describe your approach to cooking?
Kyle Mortimer-Proulx: Fresh. Simple. Balanced.
What is your favourite thing about cooking for others?
The eating part – where you’re having a glass of wine and a good conversation.
What experience have you tried to achieve here at Lowertown?
Lowertown is all about the overall experience. We’re a full-scale brewery with a great Brewmaster, Adam Pines. I wanted the food to speak for itself, but become even better when paired with the beer that Adam is putting out! I’ve aimed to create a delicious and consistent product that appeals to the local dining community and tourists alike! We want Lowertown to be a mainstay in the community – a place where you can come and hang out as a group of 2, a bachelor/ette party for 12, or a work/office function for 30. We’re looking to be known for having great food, delicious beer, and a comfortable vibe.
How did you develop the menu here at Lowertown?
The menu concept of Lowertown is based around old-school techniques utilizing Canadian ingredients and flavours. I have a large industrial smoker that influences the majority of my menu, so you see some staples like Montreal-Style Smoked Meat, Smoked Beef Brisket, and even things like Smoked Tomatoes (for a vegan sandwich) and Smoked Chicken Wings. Early on, I offered many different specials that our service staff would offer so that I could gauge what our guests were enjoying. As I’ve made menu changes, I’ve used the feedback from them to put on the types of items that they were enjoying most.
What would you say to those who are surprised that you used to be the head chef at the now-closed, vegan Zen Kitchen?
I would let them know that chefs need to be adaptable and have a wide variety of influences and skill sets to make themselves better at cooking and running restaurants in general. While I enjoyed my time at Zen Kitchen and felt as though the food that I was creating with my team was very good, I obviously had to find something new. Our guests at Lowertown get to benefit from my vegan experience at ZK because I still offer a few vegan options on my menu here, so that some of my old guests will come and visit!
Other than your switch from vegan cuisine to snout to tail cuisine, what has been the biggest change for you since moving from Zen Kitchen to Lowertown Brewery?
This is the first time that I’ve worked in the Byward Market, which is obviously very tourist-based. It’s interesting to see how big of an impact the weather and time of year plays on the business – you need to be able to ramp up and slow down production very quickly, and adapt as the seasons progress. For example, during the Winter I have a kitchen-staff of about 7, whereas in the Spring and Summer I expand the team to 20+.
Lowertown has been immediately active in the community, what kinds of events have you hosted?
I created the Lowertown Throwdown series last winter that benefitted the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation. The concept was for me to challenge 5 other local chefs to create 1 dish focusing on a rotating theme/ingredient. The guests would vote for their favourite dish and that Chef would gain bragging rights for the month and come back to defend their title at the next competition.
What local products and produce do you feature at Lowertown?
During the warmer months I often walk over to the vendors in the Byward Market and grab ingredients for specials. Rochon Farms always has amazing berries that I’ll feature in desserts. I visit Andy from Acorn Creek Farms at the Lansdowne Farmers Market and especially love his hot peppers to make my house-made hot sauces.