Ottawa Start’s “Essential”
Earlier this month, we discovered the source for community-oriented news and events in Ottawa released its annual round-up of “essential blogs.” And, we were on it.
There are so many great food blogs in Ottawa. I really like Don, Jenn and Claire’s blog because they are so excited about finding great food in Ottawa, at restaurants, grocery stores, markets, food trucks, or wherever else they happen to be.
For years, founder Glen Gower’s OttawaStart.com had a “b-list,” second-string blogs that made great resources, but were only borderline “essential.” For years, that second list included humble foodiePrints and a lot of our friends’ blogs: Tanya’s Spydergrrl: geeky goodness with a side of nerd and Ming’s PhotogMusic.com (he now shoots for Jack Pine).
It was with some irony we discovered our promotion from one list to the other. You see, funding issues and family responsibilities cut short our reporting on Ottawa food for 2013. The months of December 2013 and January 2014 were somewhat desolate content-wise.
Though, Thai Kitchen Canada did hire us to work on a sponsored project, #TKLucky7, which we used to prepare homages to some of Ottawa’s characteristic dishes. Incidentally, the campaign to find their new brand ambassador ends this Friday (February 28, 2014).
Chef Rene Rodriguez of Navarra Makes a Run at Top Chef Canada
Ottawa chefs are largely obscure to most Canadians. Canadian chefs that earn household recognition rarely hail from the National Capital Region: Lynne Crawford (Toronto), Vikram Vij (Vancouver via India), Ned Bell (apparently, born in the woods in British Columbia’s Okanagan), Susur Lee (Toronto via Hong Kong).
Not advocating reverence or celebrity, a number of local notables deserve better than to toil in relative obscurity. They trained at one of the local culinary schools, apprenticed in one of the rite-of-passage kitchens (Arc Lounge at the Arc Hotel, Social, or Domus), and struck out on their own. While many “homegrown” cooks leave Ottawa for the seemingly gold-plated big city streets of Toronto or Vancouver, several remain.
While our dining-out crowd teeths on big-chain restaurants, these stubborn chefs-turned-entrepreneurs diversify our food scene, opening new restaurants. René Rodriguez of Navarra Restaurant (93 Murray Street) is one of them. We predict, just like alumnus Chef Jonny Korecki of Sidedoor Kitchen (18 York Street), Rodriguez will earn some notoriety from competing in Top Chef Canada.
Food Network Canada announced competitors for Season 4 of Top Chef several weeks ago. Rodriguez made it through the auditions. Korecki was a finalist in Season 2.
The announcement coincides with our editor’s piece in the winter issue of Eat In/Eat Out magazine, in which she described Navarra as a hidden gem. Click here to read about the 30-seater restaurant that serves “takes on Oaxacan (Mexican) cuisine with Roman and Basque (Spanish) influences.” [Turn to page 48.]
Here are some of the photos we filed that met the cutting room floor.
Cardamom and Cloves Opens
Of spice and well…dried herbs, spice blends, and everything nice!
When I think of our friend Jodi Samis’ newly-opened spice shop, Cardamom and Cloves (440 Preston Street) my mind wanders back to a late summer evening spent on lawn chairs behind our wine blogger’s then newly-renovated house. Claire explained the work completed, the new amenities, the now-functional kitchen, the corrections to a previous contractor’s work. Sensing I was getting lost in the construction, Jodi turned to me and shared an idea.
“Where do you buy your spices?” she asked.
All over the place, actually: in-town and out; online; by mail-order back in the day. An organic juniper berry quest to Toronto’s Kensington Market came to mind. Friends bring me spices and salts from their travels abroad.
For the record, I like to buy whole and grind-as-I-go. Spices last longer this way. Pre-ground spices are extremely perishable, their essential oils being quite volatile. My wife and I have three mortars and pestles of varying sizes (including a prized Thai-style granite number), hand-crank stick grinders, and a dedicated coffee grinder for finer processing.
While spices do not generally go bad, per se, even McCormick, purveyor of those iconic skinny ClubHouse jars with plastic lids, counsels binning whole spices after 3-4 years; ground spices after 2-3; dried herbs after 1-3; and “seasoning blends” after 1-2. In practice, I have found these numbers unrealistic. Pre-ground spices in my care deadened after 1 year.
Before Cardamom and Cloves opened its doors on Preston Street in Little Italy, here is where I sourced spices in Ottawa:
- Herb and Spice (1310 Wellington Street W.): here I bagged my own from the wooden apothecary drawers in the back of the shop
- Kowloon Market (712 Somerset Street W.) and T&T (224 Hunt Club Road) Chinese grocery stores: here I purchased sealed plastic pouches of spices and chiles
- Al Jazeerah Food & Meat (1101 Wellington Street W.) and Mid East Foods (1000 Belfast Road) middle-eastern grocery stores: here I purchased sealed plastic pouches of whole or ground spice blends
- Blue Nile Restaurant (577 Gladstone Ave): here I purchased packages of Ethiopian and Eritrean spices
- Bulk Barn: here I bagged my own from a bank of plastic dispensers.
As a result, I have baskets of twist-tied plastic bags with hand written labels. Then, I have glass jars containing home-ground blends. And, I have containers of spice rubs and cures in the freezer, some laced with sodium nitrite for charcuterie projects.I never understood the value of a dedicated spice shop until I visited one with knowledgeable staff in Old Nice, France.
The problem when buying even whole spices is provenance. Buyer beware. I find labeling to be evasive when trying to determine where certain spices came from, how they were processed, and how they were shipped. And no, this isn’t a “foodie-being-particular” moment. Sometimes spices are dyed to make them more appealing to the eye. Sometime fillers are mixed with ground spices to lower costs. The word “organic” can be just a figment of marketing. Organic means different things in different parts of the world.
At Caradamom and Cloves Jodi displays her spices in large glass mason jars on well lit shelves like a tea shop. There are whole spices (seeds, pods, and bark), pre-ground spices, dried herbs (flowers, steams, and leaves), and blends displayed. There are new-to-me spices I’m all too happy to work with.
Best of all the food-blogger-turned-shop-keeper (AKA: local food entrepreneur) is happy to answer questions.
Want to know when the ras el hanout was ground? Need a flavour to take a dish to the next level or substitute? Need to know how the star anise is organic? Ask her?
Quality whole spices are ground-to-order!
Need a custom blend made, say for your St. Patrick’s Day corned beef? You can order it.
Hers is a full service operation.
Caradmom and Cloves opened Friday, February 7th. There are over a hundred spices on the shelves; East India Company spice blends and flavoured Salty Don (good name!) salts along the back; mortars and pestles at the front; and much much more to come!
Full Disclosure: We contributed to the Jodi’s Indiegogo campaign to help her start it up. Now, what am I going to do with this cinnamon?
93 Murray Street
Cardamaom and Cloves
440 Preston Street
Tags: Cardamom and Cloves, featured, Food Network, Navarra, Top Chef Canada