We’d like to take a look at some of the up-and-comers in our Ottawa Food and Beverage scene. These are the people to watch when it comes to local and delicious fare.
Over the last year, Arlo Wine & Restaurant has become one of Ottawa’s most sought-after dining experiences. While this can easily be attributed to the hospitality of the ownership and waitstaff, funky-cozy atmosphere, and impeccable natural wine list, the kitchen must also receive credit. Your mind may first go to chef Jamie Stunt, but another driving force of Arlo’s cuisine is sous-chef Mitchell Hahn.
Hahn was born in Almonte, coming to Ottawa in 2009 to study public administration at uOttawa. While travelling around Europe, Hahn realized that he loved the vibrancy of cuisine. He was attracted to the flair of creating gourmet meals and the theatre of the dining room. The thought of cooking delicious food in front of a stove trumped the idea of sitting behind a desk, and he resolved to become a chef upon his return home.
After finishing the chef training program at Algonquin College in 2014, Hahn interned for a week at Fresco’s on Elgin, but craved a more contemporary atmosphere to cook and learn. I met him late that summer when he came to the back door of Fauna, resumé in hand, looking for a job as a line cook. Fauna had only been open for a few weeks at that point, finally overcoming the endless hurdles it had faced when opening, and was even busier than anticipated. I was the sous-chef at that point, and I believe I greeted Hahn with a mere grunt. Someone took him to meet Chef Jon Svazas, and I returned to my mountain of prep work.
Hahn quickly proved himself a hard worker and quick study, mastering the cold appetizer and hot vegetable stations and adapting to the many modernist cooking techniques we were employing. That year, Fauna was selected to compete at Gold Medal Plates for the first time.
“I remember it being a lot of fun, only a little overwhelming,” Hahn recalls. “We were the first team there to drop off and set up. Kyrn (Stein, then-chef of Social) was helping us out. He’d done the competition before, so he showed us the ropes. He took us all to Social for lunch, and we ended up running back to finish setting up at the last minute. Still managed to come in second.”
Hahn found that he enjoyed the competition and cooking against his peers in the city. “It’s a lot of work and late nights to be ready for the event, but to go there and show your best? It’s always a team-building exercise.”
After two years as a line cook at Fauna, Hahn was promoted to sous-chef, as Jon was opening Bar Laurel and I went with him. Hahn stepped naturally into the role, leading the kitchen, honing his formidable butchery and fish-cleaning skill set, and helping to guide the direction of the ever-changing Fauna menu. It was during his tenure as sous-chef that the Fauna staff was invited to New York City to cook at James Beard House in recognition of their Food Day Canada menu, which he helped to create.
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“I don’t know if the full gravity of the occasion hit me at the time,” Hahn says. “I was still pretty early in my career. It was amazing to be there, to see how other people from across Canada worked in that kitchen. I look back at it now, and I’m kinda floored I was there.”
After five years at Fauna, Hahn was contemplating a change. As it happened, the year 2020 was bent on providing change to everyone. Like every other restaurant in the city, Fauna’s doors shut, and as summer crept closer, they had only just started offering takeout. There were not enough hours to go around. Hahn knew it was time to move on.
In June of 2020, he got his chance, joining the fledgling kitchen team of Arlo. “I had heard great things about Jamie, and we just kind of clicked,” he says about Arlo’s chef, Jamie Stunt. “It’s been exciting to see just what goes into getting a restaurant open. I missed out on Fauna’s opening by a few weeks, so this time I really got to see behind the curtain leading up to the doors opening.”
When Arlo offered patio dining to eager customers, nearly everything was cooked outside on an open grill. “The indoor kitchen wasn’t even finished yet,” Hahn recalls. “There was a lot of trudging up and down the stairs, heating pots of water on the grill for cleaning, but we made it work. People fell in love with the spot right away.”
Now that they have a proper indoor kitchen and have moved away from serving food on paper plates, Hahn and the team have hit their stride. “The food we’re doing keeps us on our toes,” he says, “because we’re always using what’s new and freshest. Sometimes a dish will only last a week or two.”
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He’s also busy adapting to the challenge of creating shelf-stable items for the Arlo Market, which runs every Saturday from 11am-2pm, weather depending. “It’s a whole new skill set, but one that I’m really enjoying developing.”
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Looking to the future, Hahn wants to continue building what they’ve started at Arlo. “We’ve got lots of interesting events and collaborations coming up, so look forward to that,” he says. He also wants to keep honing his skills and perhaps learn more about the administrative side of being a chef.
“The next step in my career would be to lead my own kitchen, but I want to make sure I have all the knowledge I need first.”
As someone who’s watched Hahn’s career from the start, I think he’s on the right track.