It's all about the Joie de Vivre
Named Tante Carole for a fictitious aunt, Chelsea’s newest eatery really does look like the house a favourite relative might live in: a cozy country bungalow with a garden and a deck on which you can unwind with a drink. Nestled at the edge of Gatineau Park, the restaurant overlooks Hendrick Farm, a conservation community with eco-friendly housing, green spaces and an organic vegetable farm.
The laid-back village vibe is exactly what Tante Carole’s chefs and coowners, Jonathan Harris and his fiancé Suyeon Myeong, are fostering. “We wanted to create a space where everyone feels comfortable, like they’re part of our family,” Harris says. “Naming it Aunt Carole just adds to the homey feel.”
Tante Carole has been open less than a year, but it has attracted a customer following and won praise from veteran Ottawa food critic Anne DesBrisay. The venture feels like a natural progression for the two young chefs who always wanted to live in the country, away from city stress. Chelsea’s more leisurely pace helps them balance the professional with the personal. For example, since they only live a few doors from the restaurant, they’re able to take their dogs out for walks between meal services.
Their approach to cuisine is equally low-key. “We don’t try to follow a trend,” Harris explains.
“Our goal is to provide simple, tasty food and have fun doing it.” Myeong agrees. “We make the food we want to eat, work with flavours we enjoy and put them together in unexpected ways. Our customers are pretty chill and like trying the different combinations we come up with.”
The unexpected touches can include adding crisp-fried smelts to a Caesar salad, pairing pork tongue with seared sea scallops, or stuffing pierogies with sweet potato. Although rooted in traditional French technique, the couple’s cookery incorporates international flavours. “It’s so easy these days to go online and find recipes from around the world,” Harris points out. “We might use jerk sauce in one dish or Southeast Asian ingredients in another.” Myeong, who hails from Seoul, likes to work with Korean flavours.
The menu is kept small to ensure the best quality and service, and showcases local, seasonal food. “Local and seasonal is just the way we live,” says Harris, who grew up eating vegetables from his grandmother’s garden. “It feels natural to work with what’s around us. And customers often tell us how important high-quality local food is to them, so we’re ordering more and more of it from suppliers in and around Ottawa.” He and Myeong forage for morels, greens and mint from the nearby woods and source fresh produce from Hendrick Farm and Juniper Farms, meat from local providers such as Mariposa Farms, and certified Ocean Wise fish from The Whalesbone.
“People get excited when they eat food that tastes the way it should,” Myeong says. “Lots of people don’t like tomatoes because they’ve only had the ones from the grocery store. But when they come here and eat a fresh local heritage tomato, they like it because they can taste that it’s the real thing.”
Cooking has long been an obsession for the couple. Myeong started out doing simple food prep in a Seoul café and discovered how much fun it was to work in the kitchen. When she came to Canada in 2009, she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa and later worked at The Courtyard (where she met Harris) under Chef Michael Hay and at the Wakefield Mill. Growing up in Buckingham, Québec, Harris was addicted to TV cooking shows such as The Urban Peasant, motivated by a need to find alternatives to the microwaved casseroles mother favoured. After high school, he honed his culinary skills in restaurants in the U.S. and Vancouver before landing at The Courtyard and ultimately joining forces with Myeong.
In the fall of 2014, the young chefs were driving along the Old Chelsea Road when they noticed that long-time vegetarian eatery, Café Soup’herbe, was vacant. Within a week, they had lined up support from family and friends and rented the building for their own restaurant. In the months that followed, they tore down a wall to open up the space, painted and put in a bar. Tante Carole opened for lunch and weekend brunch in February 2015, began serving dinner in June, and recently started Meatless Mondays (with meat options available for those who want them) to fill the void in the community’s vegetarian scene left by Café Soup’Herbe.
With winter approaching, Tante Carole will reach out to early morning skiers by serving brunch every day it’s open, and by heating the outdoor patio so customers carrying ski gear can relax over mulled wine and other treats. November will also see the launch of Takeover Tuesdays, in which an area chef will rent the space every Tuesday to prepare a pop-up meal served by Tante Carole staff.
Harris and Myeong attribute their success so far to having the right people working with them, including a sommelier who’s also a Cordon Bleu graduate and experienced servers.
Most of all, the couple wants to continue creating dishes that make customers happy. “Seeing smiles on peoples’ faces means more to us than being celebrity chefs,” Harris says. “Joie de vivre is what this is all about.”
168 Chemin Old Chelsea, Chelsea, QC