Ross Fraser says that he started out as a chef following in his older brother (and business partner) Simon’s footsteps. His brother apprenticed with an uncle that had a hotel and restaurant in Germany. He says that seeing his brother’s experience inspired him although, as Fraser points out, he also enjoyed working at restaurants starting out in high school.
Canada's Chefs in Conversation: Ross Fraser, Ottawa ON
Ross Fraser creates simple, seasonal and flavourful food that focuses on local ingredients at Fraser Café in Ottawa, Ontario.
Chef Ross Fraser (left) and his brother Simon Fraser (right)
Fraser mentions two main influences that shaped him as a chef. The first was a stint working at Domus Café in Ottawa where, Fraser explains, Chef John Taylor’s focus on sourcing top quality local ingredients inspired his own interest in cooking locally and seasonally.
The second influence that he cites was apprenticing with Chef Michael Stadtlander at Eigensinn Farm. He says that it was an experience of which he has vivid memories that continue to influence him. Fraser says that he gained valuable experience helping to grow the vegetables, raise the animals and cook for the ten-course farmhouse meals and adds, “Chef Stadtlander was also the national culinary advisor for the first year of Gold Medal Plates so I got to go to travel across Canada with him. It was a great snapshot of the country’s food for me.” He adds that working at Eigensinn Farm was an elaboration on the ideas that he’d started to embrace while cooking at Domus Café.
Aside from these two major influences, he mentions Beckta Dining and Wine as having taught him about hospitality and Gordon Ramsay’s Hospital Road restaurant for instilling the European kitchen values of organization and a strong work ethic.
Using high quality local products, offering value for money, having varied menus and making things from scratch are all elements of Fraser’s approach to food and cooking. He says, first of all, that it comes down to all of the local products they use. This approach goes as far as the restaurant having it’s own garden and hiring a gardener. Fraser says, “We’ve had that going for about three years. It’s not a garden that can supply the restaurant but its a great connection. Sometimes we’ll go with some of our cooks and work on the garden.”
The Fraser Café's take on scallops
Fraser goes on to say that they see the Fraser Café as a neighbourhood restaurant. He points out, “We don’t want people to consider the restaurant too fussy. Value’s always connected to it and we want to make sure people are leaving well-fed and happy.”
The chef says the fact that there's not a great deal of crossover between menus allows for a wider range of dishes between the brunch, lunch and dinner menus. He says that this variety also allows a greater scope for creativity.
The idea of scratch-making as many items as possible is also important to Fraser. He explains, “We make our own sausages for brunch, we always bake our own bread and buns, we make all of our own ice creams. After a time you just cook in a certain way.” He admits that there’s more scope for things to go wrong when taking this approach but that it can be accepted as part of the process.
When it comes to creating new dishes, Fraser says that using locally sourced ingredients means that,“You count on the asparagus showing up and then the peas and corn. It’s a cycle and when the products show up, you’re forced to cook in a certain way.”
However, Fraser continues, they like to vary the flavour profiles around specific ingredients. He says that the restaurant doesn’t limit itself to one style of food as long as all of the dishes reach the broader goals that the kitchen team has set.
A creative spin on a pork chop from Fraser Café.
As an example of their culinary freedom, Fraser mentions Michael Stadtlander’s wife Nobuyo and says, “She’s Japanese, she grew up on Okinawa and she’s one of the best cooks I’ve met. She’s had an influence over my style as well. It isn’t that I’m trying to cook Japanese food but for the sake of variety and interest I’m not afraid of using that influence.”
Patience, creating a team atmosphere and adapting to change are key traits that Fraser says he hopes to embody as a chef. In terms of patience, he says that the challenge is trying get all of the kitchen team to operate on the same page. Fraser says that getting the team working together is crucial because, “no matter how good of a cook you might be, you can’t do anything without your team.”
Adaptation to change is a way for a chef to keep fresh and motivated according to Fraser. He says, “You find a balance between sticking with things that have worked for you while still moving forward. Cooking isn’t easy but as long as you still want to do it you find ways to reinvigorate your interest.”
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