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.
Let’s play a quick word-association game: I say Whalesbone, and I bet most of you say “fish!” Makes sense. But if you follow the restaurant group on social media, or if you’ve frequented any of the locations lately, you may have also said “desserts!”
The name behind those scrumptious desserts is Julia Gindra, pastry chef for the Whalesbone Group. That means she’s in charge of the sweets for Whalesbone Bank, Kent and Elgin, as well as the Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern. It’s been her hard work over the last few years that has enamoured us all to the sweeter side of the Whalesbone.
Born in Durban, South Africa, Gindra brought her love of baking to Ottawa at the age of 18. She enrolled in the Algonquin College baking and pastry program before landing a position in the pastry shop of the Chateau Laurier. Always wanting to expand her skills, Gindra transferred to the hot line at Wilfrid’s restaurant, then worked as a line cook at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
“I wanted to be well-rounded,” says Gindra, “but I always found myself drawn back to pastry. It’s what I love to do.”
Returning to Ottawa in 2017, Gindra took a position at the Whalesbone’s Bank St. location as a line cook, but started paying particular attention to the dessert menu. The team was quick to notice not just the care that Gindra put into each plated dessert, but the number of desserts sold, which shot up 15 per cent almost immediately. She was soon offered the role of pastry chef for the whole restaurant group, a position which had not previously existed.
Gindra was moved over to the Kent St. location, and began putting together a functioning pastry shop. “All dessert and bread prep is centralized now,” she says. “It ensures consistency and makes for less waste; the benefits were immediate.”
How does one handle desinging a separate dessert menu for each location? “I try to make things in the spirit of each location and their guests,” says Gindra. “Bank gets the most elegant and playful desserts because it’s small, funky and intimate. Elgin is a bit homier, so I use more familiar ingredients and preparations, while for the Elmdale, I just try to redesign casual, tavern-style desserts with my own twist.”
This all slowed to a halt when the pandemic forced everyone’s doors closed. However, Gindra was one of the first employees of the Whalesbone Group brought back to work when it was safe to do so. She developed cookies, pies, cakes and ice creams which could be taken home from the Kent location. Her offerings were a huge hit.
“We joke that we’re Ottawa’s first fish shop/bakery,” Gindra laughs, “but seriously, we were all kind of surprised just how much people got behind the take-home desserts. It’s been really humbling.”
Once Gindra’s skills in cake-baking and decorating hit social media, things continued to ramp up.
“These days, on top of everything for Kent and the restaurants, I’ve usually got a few specialty cake orders per week, too. We’re selling thousands of desserts out of Kent. The upstairs is all convection ovens, mixers and dough sheeters now,” she smiles, “and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Things will only get busier for Gindra as she works to develop the bread and pastry programs at Harmon’s, the group’s new steakhouse , which will soon occupy the site of the former Fox & Feather. Confident and organized, she’s more than up to the challenge.
“I just take things day by day,” says Gindra. “I feel very lucky to be where I am now, doing what I’m doing.” She says reception to her desserts has been “amazing” and credits the entire group with being supportive. “I can’t tell you what it means to me to have built a dessert following out of this little fish shop. It makes me feel like no matter what’s coming next, I can do anything.”