A Seven-Course, 11-Day Odyssey
Thursday, Jan. 13, 5 p.m.
It’s T-minus 11 days. Chef Adam Vettorel’s notepad is part list, part masterpiece. His small, precise all-caps printing fills every available space on two pages of a book the size of a watercolourist’s sketchpad. It’s a flurry of words and ideas for dishes to be served at a sevencourse dinner for 60 people two Sundays from now.
Vettorel is co-owner and executive chef at North & Navy, one of Ottawa’s hottest new restaurants — it opened a year ago in the space formerly occupied by Beckta Dining & Wine — and he’s collaborating on this dinner with Oliver Truesdale-Jutras and Phoebe Oviedo. The latter are business and romantic partners who run Stovetrotter, an Ottawa-based company that does global guest spot dinners. They’ve already hit Morocco and Japan; Paris, Brussels, Munich, Berlin and Amsterdam are next. And, to Ottawa’s delight, they’re doing a few while wintering here. This is the second after an engagement at Fraser Café’s Table 40 in late December.
Stovetrotter’s mission is to showcase local ingredients and artisans. For this dinner, root vegetables will star and, in a nod to the restaurant’s Italian roots, there will be five “ethically imported” Italian items. Other than the imports, every ingredient will come from Canada — the closer, the better.
“Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean it’s time to stop eating vegetables,” Vettorel says.
The chefs have already had a planning session that resulted in the notepad ideas. This weekend, the work and experimenting begin. There are elements that are old hat to them — the ravioli dough in one dish, the homemade ricotta in another — but components that will include such delicacies such as dried hops, spruce tips, lobster mushrooms, chanterelles and slippery jacks, all foraged in Papineau- Labelle, must be tested. Those ingredients will be joined by locally farmed ingredients — Brussels sprouts from Acorn Creek Garden Farm, beets, celeriac, spinach, leaf lard and chickweed from Juniper Farm, and local mushrooms from Le Coprin.
Sunday, Jan. 17, 11 a.m.
Oliver Truesdale-Jutras is chopping carrots, celery, onions, turnips and king eryngii mushrooms for a stock to eventually be infused with the dried mushrooms.
Opening the jars of mushrooms, he ruminates on their aromas. “This smells like fruit… or something,” he says of the chanterelles. “The slippery jacks smell like soy sauce and the lobster mushrooms just smell like a Chinese grocery.”
The mushrooms came from his father, chef Robert Jutras, formerly of Culinary Conspiracy, who is an “extreme” forager. Truesdale- Jutras then runs to the walk-in, returning with two jars. “This is hawthorn jelly. They’re pretty much inedible until you make a tea. It’s strange. It tastes familiar, but not quite like anything you know. And this is wild-grape jelly. It’s totally sweet — and tart.”
Truesdale-Jutras is part chef, part mad scientist, always analyzing the properties and chemistry of food. Oviedo is more perfectionist and part Zen practitioner in the kitchen. She moves about the stations calmly and meticulously — one of her many talents is as a pastry chef, the kitchen position that requires the most precision — while her partner is more excitable and emotive. Vettorel, who shares the duo’s immense creativity, is somewhere in between. All three are yoga devotees.
“We have a similar mindset generally,” Truesdale-Jutras says of the three chefs involved in this venture. “Phoebe and I probably go a little bit further into local or foraged foods. At Table 40, we were Nazis with ourselves about this. If it wasn’t available in Canada, we couldn’t use it.”
Oviedo interjects: “Stuff like pepper or lemon — they’re hard to substitute.”
All three chefs met at on the line at Domus, a now-closed pioneering ByWard Market institution that stressed local ingredients. “But even at Domus, it wasn’t full psychopathic dedication,” Truesdale-Jutras said. “We did use soy sauce.”
The mushroom dish Truesdale-Jutras is working on includes the rich broth, and raw, pickled and roasted mushrooms from Le Coprin, spinach and chickweed, to be plucked from the frozen ground at Juniper Farm's greenhouse — they’ve already picked some and it bounces back well — and a custard in the bottom of the bowl. The broth will be served table-side.
Back to work they go. There’s much to do today, one week before the meal takes place. Vettorel is juggling work and family on what is normally his day off and Truesdale-Jutras and Oviedo are taking advantage of the quiet basement kitchen at North & Navy to get some things done. They’ve made a pastry of Juniper Farms leaf lard, but have decided it’s too lard-intense to use for their sumac meringue tart. “We’ll add some water and butter and scale back the lard a bit,” Oviedo says.
Sumac is a sour, almost lemony, Canadian berry that’s widely used in the Middle East, strangely. “You see sumac everywhere and we don’t use it in Canada,” Truesdale-Jutras says.
Today, Oviedo is also working on a bread made of red fife and oats from Castor River Farm. The recipe has three parts, two fermented overnight. In a couple of days, she’ll know if it worked. As she kneads the dough, it reminds Truesdale-Jutras about another ingredient — hops.
He pulls out a bag of dried buds — a paler marijuana look-alike. “It’s hops!” he says. “There’s a mild ganja smell, but it also smells like beer. We’re testing hops butter for a bread course.”
That’s a project for tomorrow. For now, he’ll finish his stock and Oviedo will move on to chesnut butter. Made by cooking then puréeing roasted chestnuts in butter, it’s part of a pasta dish. It’s hard to imagine that “experiment” going wrong.
Team Stovetrotter is also moonlighting at Truesdale-Jutras’ parents’ Manor Park home, where they’re staying. They’ve dried rye, for garnish on a pasta dish, and cured egg yolks, which will be shaved over a Brussels sprouts dish.
Tuesday, Jan. 19
It’s pasta day at North & Navy and the trio has made the restaurant’s reliable ravioli dough.
"We were goofing around with different shapes,” Vettorel says, pointing to a tray with an array of stuffed pasta incarnations. “We’re going with scarpinocc. It will be stuffed with squash and pumpkin, pecorino, caramelized onions and roasted garlic. If you experiment often and take good notes, the reward is that you have good foundation recipes.”
The pasta will be frozen. For a reason Vettorel doesn’t fully understand, filled pasta cooks more evenly from frozen. The city’s pasta guru ought to know.
Meanwhile, Oviedo has cooked the bread experiment and determined it’s “too red fifey.” She’ll amp up the bread flour next time.
The mushroom stock is a success and ready to go for Sunday’s meal.
The chefs make a Saturday morning trip to Juniper Farm where they harvest chickweed and spinach, both of which are frozen in the greenhouse and both of which rehydrated beautifully.
That’s a few things — filled pasta, stock, cured egg yolks, chestnut butter and Acorn Creek pumpkin Vettorel made on Sunday — that can be crossed off the long prep list.
“Tonight, I’m going to make the mushroom dish and experiment with some aromatics — spruce oil and truffle oil,” Vettorel says.
The hops butter, they’ve determined, is too bitter. They have to temper the hops.
Thursday, Jan 21
It’s 10 a.m. and the chefs are packed into Vettorel’s white Volkwagen GTI, heading north of Wakefield to Le Coprin, home of the capital region’s preeminent mushroom farm.
Christophe Marineau takes the group through his operation, describing his processes and perfect mycological conditions.
Truesdale-Jutras is taken with the strangely beautiful brown blocks out of which shiitakes grow. He actually jumps up and down when he discovers they can affordably purchase a few for table decorations. They also order nameko, oyster and winter mushrooms.
Towards the tour’s end, Marineau remembers he has dry turtle mushrooms and gives the chefs a sample. At $10 per 100 grams, they’re a steal — 300 grams return to Ottawa with the chefs.
Back at the restaurant, the chefs make ricotta and test their new pastry dough, which is perfect. Now they just have to make some butter-only pastry for the Jewish guests. A leaf-lard pastry will be used for the two guests who can’t eat dairy.
Friday, Jan 22
It’s a busy day at North & Navy’s kitchens. The chefs are happy with their ricotta. Truesdale-Jutras molds it in the bottom of a square metal tool and Oviedo tops them with apples earlier butter-caramelized by Vettorel. She then wraps them in cheesecloth squares and ties them with jute. Tomorrow, Vettorel will put them on his small smoker, outside the back door, as one component on the cheese course. The dairy-free folks? Rather than missing out, they’ll be blessed with foie gras.
For the mushroom dish, they decide the custard is unnecessary and eliminate it. Vettorel pickled the nameko mushrooms earlier today and Truesdale-Jutras tested the spruce oil and is happy with its subtle release when the broth is poured over top.
Now he’s searing the braised pork, carved into long one-inch high rectangles. The sear, he determines, will work well if done just before serving Sunday. “I just need to make sure it stays together,” he said. “There were are a lot of pieces that could come apart.”
Next is the Brussels sprout dish. The team made the dressing last night and it’s “impossibly delicious,” Vettorel says. They’ll fry Brussels sprouts, top them with the shredded sprouts tossed in the dressing. Shaved cured egg yolk goes on top. Then, they’ll cross another item off their list.
Saturday, Jan 23
It’s 11 a.m. and Vettorel is rejuvenated after a morning yoga class. In addition to the prep for this meal, he’s also working his regular nights at the restaurant so yoga, and spending time with his wife, Alison, who is seven months pregnant, are key for balance.
The trio is now heading north to Juniper Farm to harvest spinach and chickweed for the mushroom dish. The farm is quiet — farmers Alex McKay-Smith and Juniper Turgeon aren’t there. Their two barn rabbits are, however, to the delight of Beau, the son of North & Navy co-owner Chris Schlesak, a professional photographer who runs front-of-house operations and came because he’s documenting the seven-course odyssey with his camera.
Look at these,” says Vettorel as he pulls the light coverings off the greens. “I like the little ones.”
The leaves of the spinach are covered in frost — it is -10C. But the chefs tested their resilience last week. They thawed perfectly. “This spinach seems to hide sugar in its roots,” Vettorel says. When they return to the kitchen, they smoke the ricotta bindles.
Sunday, Jan 24
It’s T-minus four hours and things are hopping at the restaurant. Two of Vettorel’s cooks are volunteering their time and are setting up for tonight’s meal. One is helping Vettorel shred half a bucket of Brussels sprouts, to perch on top of the other half, which will be deep fried. The other has spiralized potatoes for a second “pasta” dish, one that will be served with pecorino and bottarga (fermented mullet roe).
Truesdale-Jutras has salt- and bread-crusted the beets and they’re on large trays — like extra-terrestrial orbs — in the ovens. Oviedo is working on the sumac curd and the meringue and finishing up the substitutions for those with dietary restrictions.
The chefs are aiming for 5 p.m. to plate every dish and brief the wait staff, who are volunteering and being briefed by Schlesak out front.
As they’re plating the beet dish, to be served over a plate half-covered in housemade crème fraiche topped with trout roe, they discover the smaller beets are too salty. Truesdale-Jutras and Oviedo spring into action, dashing downstairs to peel a bunch more beets for backup while Vettorel continues plating and briefing.
When the beets are done, Truesdale-Jutras brings up two of the non-alcoholic pairings to the bartender. The sweet evergreen tea will be paired with the cheese course and the bio-flavia cordial, a red wine mimic, will be paired with the main — pork, some kale, and the beets and Brussels sprouts.
Just as Vettorel is describing the last dish, Schlesak swings by to tell him the evening’s first diners have arrived. Bam! Game on!
North and Navy
226 Nepean St., Ottawa, Ont.
Prince Edward County Hinterland sparkling/Crodino
-Secundo and Contorni -
Beets/Roe/Crema Sprouts/Anchovy/Yolk Kale/Hazelnut/Grape Berkshire-Tamworth Pork Shoulder
-Formaggi e Fruta-
Sumac/Meringue/Leaf Lard Pastry