New book takes a delicious look at Ottawa’s food scene

By Paula Roy –

For locals and tourists alike, the popular blog foodiePrints (foodieprints.com) serves as an indispensable source of culinary information, focused especially on the thriving Ottawa food scene.

Kitchissippi residents Don Chow and Jennifer Lim founded the blog eight years ago and since then have delivered hundreds of delicious recipes, thoughtful restaurant reviews and notices of great local food events. Their recently published book, Ottawa Food – A Hungry Capital, is packed with gorgeous photos and stories celebrating all things edible in our region.

Don Chow and Jennifer Lim are the authors of Ottawa Food – A Hungry Capital. Photo by Paula Roy
Don Chow and Jennifer Lim are the authors of Ottawa Food – A Hungry Capital. Photo by Paula Roy

KT: Why did you choose to write the book?  

foodiePrints: We were first approached by The History Press in September 2013 to see if we would be interested in writing a book about the local food scene: restaurants and dining out; farms and farmers’ markets; local producers, artisans and the craft market. While we have had passing thoughts of helping document the oral history of Ottawa’s food scene, we never dreamt about writing a book, especially a published one.

How long did the process take?

After our proposal was accepted, we began our research last winter and just five months later, the book was edited and sent to print.  It has been available for purchase since October 2014.

Was the eventual format of the book what you had originally envisioned?

After conducting 31 interviews and spending far too many evenings and weekends at the Ottawa Public Library and the City of Ottawa Archives Reference Room, we discovered there is significant depth to our local food scene and we could have turned each individual chapter into a book on its own. This said, Ottawa Food: A Hungry Capital was specifically written to be approachable, while providing a contemporary snapshot. Restaurants are included in only two of the eight chapters. We use the ByWard Market to exemplify how much has changed since the 80s. There are chapters about beer, a tradition Ottawa lost and found again; changing demand for locally grown food; street food; and the generosity of Ottawa’s food scene when it comes to charitable causes.

What was the hardest part of the making the book?

Suffice it to say the two-year-old bonds of holy matrimony were tested. Though foodiePrints is eight years old, writing Ottawa Food was the first time we worked so closely together on a long-term project.  In addition, while the publisher assumed we could leverage the photos we have taken over the years, we realized we had to take many new ones. We had to invest in new camera equipment as well as gloves and a remote to shoot during Ottawa’s frigid winter weather.  The late arrival of this past spring also played havoc with our deadline to capture our local farmers’ markets opening. Our commissioning editor was surprised to learn we still had a foot of snow in our backyard in mid-April.

What was the biggest lesson you learned while writing the book?

During the interviews, we discovered how enthusiastic members of Ottawa’s food scene (chefs, restaurateurs, and producers) were to participate in documenting their history. They are proud of what has come to pass and with good reason. Bookwise, once the manuscript was completed and sent for editing, we had no idea how quickly the book could be printed.

Can you comment on Ottawa’s evolving food scene?

Kitchissippi is home to many lovely restaurants, bakeries, and food shops.  We are blessed to have two farmers’ markets and abundant dining out choices which are representative of the state of Canadian cuisine. They include everything from ethnic and award-winning contemporary options to gastropubs and bars. The proliferation of restaurants is to some extent because we have two culinary schools and longstanding chef mentors (on both sides of the river) who have apprenticed staff. Many of these cooks have chosen to remain in Ottawa and open their own restaurants.

Though we are saddened by the recent closures of long-standing restaurants like Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar, the reality is that we are presently in the grips of a very long tail of post-recession recovery. Some are saying the restaurant closures are symptoms of a cyclical trend. But this is more of a correction, due in part to economic shifts in the region. It’s also due to hyper competition and inevitable attrition due to the sheer number of restaurants we have now. It’s a “diner’s market” with many neighbourhoods featuring a high density of licensed establishments, “epicurean rows” and “gastro alleys.”

Where can people buy your book?

Ottawa Food is available online at Chapters and Amazon and at all Ottawa Chapters and Coles, The Cuckoo’s Nest in Westboro, La Bottega Nicastro in the ByWard Market, Octopus Books, and from our publisher directly. We are hoping to land the book in a few more stores in time for the holiday season.

 

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