Chef Chris Deraiche combines elements of classic pub food with a passion for using seasonal ingredients and an experimental streak. For him, inspiration comes from working with local farmers and drawing on the community of chefs that surrounds him. He explains that doing everything from preserves to beer from scratch is part of his restaurant's ethos.
Canadian Chefs in Conversation: Chris Deraiche, Ottawa ON
Chef Chris Deraiche creatively combines seasonal ingredients with a wide variety of culinary techniques at The Wellington Gastropub in Ottawa, Ontario.
Chef Chris Deraiche
1. How did you become interested in the culinary path in the first place?
Originally it was a summer job and that turned into me doing my apprenticeship out west. Up to that point I hadn't really considered cooking as a professional career but the chef I was working for at the time talked to me about it and what my plans were and one thing lead to another.
I did my apprenticeship at the Mount Royal Hotel and when I was there the dining room was called the Tuscany, I did part of my apprenticeship too at Emerald Lake Lodge.
2. Talk about the people and experiences that have influenced you as a chef through your career.
I'd say that probably the biggest influence was when I finished culinary school and my apprenticeship I went to work at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta,Georgia. It was, at the time, their flagship property. At the time they had a Five Diamond dining room. I think there were sixty to seventy cooks in the hotel, it was just a huge operation.
I had never experienced that level of service and commitment before. The level of chefs and sous chefs that they hired was really impressive. Most of them were French and the executive chef Xavier Salomon was French as well. it was a real turning point in my career just working with that many talented people. My time was spent between working in banquets and working in the cafe. It was an amazing experience.
3. How are you approaching food and cooking currently?
We've been open for almost eight years now and since day one we change the menu every day. Its a smaller menu, we have five starters and five mains as well as ice creams and desserts. First and foremost our menus revolve around seasons which obviously has its challenges in the winter months. We do all sorts of preserves and pickles, we have a big display shelf in our dining room with those.
We get inspiration from different things people are doing around the city. Ottawa's had a big surge of restaurants in the past five years and a lot more of them are chef owned restaurants. Its such a great community in Ottawa. It's not competitive among chefs, everybody's helping each other out.
Spring salad, charred asparagus, ricotta, prosciutto, ramps, dandelion greens, figs.
4. Walk me through how you come up with new dishes for your menus.
There's things that we go back to a lot that have worked over the past eight years. There's things that have appeared on the menu since we've been open. No dish has appeared more on the menu than beef tartare. People really like it and we seem to have that on the menu most often.
Traveling plays a key role in new things coming onto the menu as does seeing some of the new ideas and approaches from people in Ottawa. Reading articles online and checking out other people's menus and cookbooks. In the age of the Internet its all right there! People seem much more friendly about sharing their ideas than other people.
5. Talk about your interest in modernist cooking techniques versus more traditional methods.
We're just starting to use one of my friend's immersion circulator and chamber sealer. This past week we just did some pastrami. We brined the briskets for a week, smoked them for a few hours and cooked them sous-vide for thirty-six hours which turned out really well. We also took seventy-five percent of the briskets and shallow braised them with beer and that one was the favourite among the staff for sure. We're going to be getting our own immersion circulator and chamber sealer as well.
Sea scallops, coconut milk chowder with bacon
6. What are you looking for when it comes to ingredients?
We're very fortunate that we've got a great network of farms in outlying areas. The farmers are really friendly people and they're asking the chefs in the restaurants what they want us to grow next year. There's a collaborative relationship with the farmers here. Between Ontario and Québec, the amount of cheeses as well as wild and foraged ingredients we can get means that we're pretty lucky.
We've got thirteen beer taps and we run a cask as well. About a year ago we started making our own beer which we're calling Stockpot Ales and there's three guys that have been working with us for six years and they make the beer on Sundays when we're closed.
7. Talk about the personality traits that you feel you need as a chef.
The ability to communicate and a sense of humor. We have a smaller kitchen here and on weekend nights there's six of us in the kitchen here. Everybody's got a very calm demeanour in our kitchen, it isn't a very aggressive kitchen and I like it that way.
8. How do you stay motivated and moving forward as a chef?
I'm getting older now, I'm going to be thirty-nine this summer. I definitely go through lulls where I feel uninspired and kind of flat. Just right now getting out of the long winter we just had, we got some spring garlic and some fiddleheads in this week and next week we'll have some asparagus. In spring its so easy to get inspired and in six to eight weeks the floodgates open and we're laughing for a couple of months!
Spring salmon, farro, red pepper purée, gribiche sauce.