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Image: The Chef’s Table.

One sound recipe: Chef’s Table concert series at the NAC pairs amazing food with live music on the Rideau Canal

By Christina Bondi on September 4, 2020

Spanning three weekends in September, the Ontario Festival of Small Halls’ 2020 Chef’s Table series will showcase the work of well-versed Canadian culinary and musical creators. It takes place at the National Arts Centre’s 1 Elgin Restaurant terrace, overlooking the Rideau Canal.

Each weekend (September 11–13, 18–19, and 25–26) will feature a different multi-course menu of farm-to-table dishes—the delectable product of collaborating chefs. This year’s chefs include Helena Loureiro (Portus 360 and Helena Restaurant in Montreal), Kenton Leier (National Arts Centre), Ian Bilodeau (Museum of History), Pascal Ménard (Global Affairs Canada and Rideau Gate), and Sheila Flaherty (sijjakkut in Iqaluit).

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Chef's Table series🍽: Experience Innovative Canadian cuisine from the chefs in residence at the @nac.cna's 1 Elgin Restaurant! Celebrate a special occasion with a 3-course meal from world-class chefs – or just enjoy reconnecting with your closest friends over food🍝, music🎶, and the beauty of a summer night by the Rideau Canal🌃. Safe and distanced group dining on a spacious patio, with musical entertainment provided from a nearby boat⛴. Enjoy safe & distanced group dining within your social bubble. 👆Tix & Info at link in bio #ontariosmallhalls #smallhallsfest #easternontario #chefstableottawa #localfood #canadianchefs #canadiancuisine #canadianmusic #supportlocal

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Following an exceptional meal, local musicians will then take the stage on a boat along the canal for an unforgettable live performance.

Because tickets to this event sold like hot cakes, the event organizers ended up adding an additional day (Sunday, September 13).

I got in touch with some of the event organizers, who include members of the Bluesfest team as well as NAC staff. NAC Food and Beverage General Manager Nelson Borges gives us a taste of this year’s Chef’s Table.

Appetizer: Taste buds achieve liftoff

Apt613: Can you please describe what attendees can expect and look forward to?

Nelson Borges: Guests will be seated at tables on their terrace, along the beautiful Rideau Canal in the heart of Ottawa. Their dinner will be a memorable creation by one of a select group of talented chefs chosen by the NAC’s Resident Chef program, created to highlight the diverse and extraordinary Canadian culinary talent we have, and the unique take each chef brings to the idea of Canadian cuisine, from every region in the country. But it is the rare combination of a high-level culinary experience with a live musical performance, that brings this evening to the next level. Musicians will perform from a boat floating on the canal, a very unique take on dinner and a show, and an innovative solution to the challenge of physical distancing.

Why was the NAC selected as the venue for this event?

The Chef’s Table aims to bring people an elegant farm-to-table experience, using providers local to the Ottawa area, which is very much in keeping with the philosophy of 1 Elgin Restaurant. Their Resident Chef program had also initiated the practice of inviting chefs from across Canada to spend some time at the NAC and share their unique take on Canadian cuisine in the form of culinary events, demonstrations, and interviews.

And finally, for the unique idea of keeping musicians physically distanced by having them play from boats on the canal, the location of 1 Elgin’s terrace really couldn’t be beat.

How are you keeping in mind safety considerations?

1 Elgin Restaurant opened its terrace to the public again on June 29, with several new safety measures and protocols in place to keep both employees and patrons safe. You can find details on these measures in the document we link to from the main page at 1Elgin.ca.

As Chef’s Table is a ticketed event, we’ve added the element of selling tables of four, six, and eight for people sharing the same “social bubble.” We’re excited to provide an opportunity for people who have already been in contact to go out for a fun evening together, while keeping them safe. And, of course, having the musicians play from a boat on the canal will allow them the space to put on a great show, all while keeping them a very safe distance from their audience.

Main course: Inspiration and collaboration

Seared arctic char. Bife à Portuguesa. Pine nut pudding. Are your taste buds singing yet? Those are just a few examples of what attendees can enjoy for dinner, depending on the weekend they have selected. I reached out to a couple of the participating chefs to learn more about their menus.

Chef Kenton Leier explains, “We have combined fantastic Inuit ingredients with great local products in this menu, which will be elevated by Chef Flaherty’s enthusiasm for traditional Inuit cuisine.”

Chef Sheila Flaherty. Photo: Frank Reardon.

Chef Sheila Flaherty also shares the following: “I am so excited to have the menu reflect and honour the deliciousness of Inuit foods, what we call in our Inuktitut language inuksiutit.” Both chefs express their enthusiasm to be working with each other once again; their collaboration and resulting menu has been set for September 25–26.

For the event’s kickoff weekend, September 11–13, Chefs Loureiro and Leier will team up to create the menu. Chefs Leier, Bilodeau, and Ménard then join forces the following weekend (September 18–19).

L-R: Chefs Bilodeau, Leier, and Ménard. Photo: Festival of Small Halls.

Dessert: A confectionary of sound

To round out each evening, The Chef’s Table will present a final course in the form of a live musical performance. Emma Francis, the maestro of music programming for both RBC Bluesfest and The Chef’s Table, says: “Music always complements an evening out. Following the food, the music will start. The outstanding local performers featured at this event are renowned, from the masterful Dueling Pianos to the acclaimed Rebecca Noelle to International Blues Challenge Winners HOROJO Trio, the excellent music is sure to pair well with a world-class meal.”

Rebecca Noelle gave me the inside scoop on her September 18 and 19 setlist: “Expect a mixture of jazz, soul, some arching ballads, and imaginative piano solos. We’re aiming to create the type of atmosphere that is most complementary to dining under the stars, as the late-summer breeze lingers through its final fleeting days.”

COVID-19 has certainly had an effect on live music. When I asked Noelle how she feels about performing live once again, she replied, “After having performed my first concert back last night, I realized how many little things I had missed about the stage. Mostly for me, it’s about having the grounds to connect with complete strangers. Musical expression requires a certain level of honesty, vulnerability, and a willingness on both sides. So, after having spent half the year forced apart by social distancing, it brings much joy to feel an intimacy with the community again.”


Learn more about this year’s Chef’s Table here.