By Paula Roy –
Her path to the culinary world may have been an indirect one, but chef-owner Briana Kim of Café My House in Hintonburg knows she’s found her true calling. Her passion for delivering inspired vegan fare has landed her an invitation to the Ottawa edition of the prestigious Gold Medal Plates culinary competition on November 9.
“When I was completing my political science degree at the University of Ottawa almost a decade ago, I began to dream of one day running a restaurant,” says Briana, who worked for Health Canada for a few years before opening Café My House on Bank Street in 2009. Five years later, she relocated to a larger space in Hintonburg and hasn’t looked back. Her tenacity, creativity and the obvious care with which she runs her establishment are among the reasons she’s risen to the top in Ottawa’s crowded culinary landscape.
Although her roots are Korean, Briana’s creations – presented in the form of multi-course tasting menus and sharing-style plates – is very much ingredient-driven rather than being influenced by any one particular cuisine.
“Our main focus is on presenting vegetables to our customers in a fun way. We want to bring a lot of imagination to the menus we plan; we think about what things we haven’t tried yet with particular ingredients. We are always exploring new ways to present a vegetable and new ways we can enhance its flavour and this is part of our strategy for Gold Medal Plates.”
Since its inception, Gold Medal Plates has raised over $12 million for Canadian Olympic athletes. The first round of judged competitions takes place in eleven cities across the country throughout November, with the winner from each regional event travelling to Kelowna, BC next February for the national showdown, the Canadian Culinary Championships.
Female chefs are often underrepresented at Gold Medal Plates in Ottawa, with only one or two among the ten local competitors each year and only one winner, Marysol Foucault of Chez Edgar, in 2013. Briana says she is aware that some people are rooting for a woman to win again. While she concedes the restaurant industry is a male-dominated one, she believes women are just as strong and competent. “Whether male or female, I have the utmost respect for chef-owners in this city,” says Briana. “Owning a business and running a kitchen are challenges in themselves and taking on a big project like Gold Medal Plates is a lot of extra work, although for me and my staff it’s been a lot of fun.”
Briana and her team have been working on the dish they’ll bring to the competition since July, constantly refining it. “Our approach, the same one we use to develop our tasting menus, is to start with a concept, work on the individual elements and continue tweaking to ensure it’s perfectly balanced,” says Briana. “At Café My House, our dishes typically have a lot of components and the one we bring to the competition will be reflective of what we serve at the restaurant, focusing on bold flavours, texture combinations and on presentation.”
Projecting a quiet confidence, Briana says she doesn’t feel she will be at a disadvantage bringing a vegan dish to the competition. “As I always tell my staff, it’s all about presenting the best food possible. We are eager for the judges to try our creation because we are so proud of what we’ve come up. It will be fun to get their feedback.”
And as for nerves, she says that given the stature of Gold Medal Plates, she thinks everyone there will be a little nervous. “It is a big, important event and there is nothing else like it in Canada,” says Briana. “We will be going into the competition as prepared as we can possibly be and then we will have to wait and see what happens. It will be exciting.”