Chef Portraits: Stephen La Salle

On a frigid date night late last winter, my wife and I headed downtown to catch a friend’s band play. We were already excited to be out because our friend plays in Sloan, one of my all-time favorite Canadian bands, but a last minute change in plans had us stumble on a nearby restaurant called The Albion Rooms. The show was better than ever, but what we talked about for days and weeks afterwards was this new restaurant we discovered and the incredible food they served. We still talk about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet the head chef and culinary mastermind behind The Albion Rooms, Stephen La Salle.

stephen la salle

Leading the charge at The Albion Rooms for the past three years, Stephen has turned a hotel restaurant into one of the best dining experiences in the city with its beautiful mix of modern cool and rustic je ne sais quoi. For all you Mad Men fans out there, this is where the 21st century Don Draper would frequent. Whether you’re in for the salmon & eggs breakfast; the elk burger dinner; or just popping by for a cocktail such as my favorite, Rye PA, you are guaranteed to leave happy. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of The New York Daily News and many other positive reviews La Salle has garnered.

stephen la salle at barWhen he’s not cooking or overseeing operations in the kitchen, Stephen can often be found at the front of the house, perched at the corner of the bar preparing apps and making final touches to dishes while chatting with patrons. This is yet one more reason why the members of the Bytown Chefs Collective succeed in the industry. After shooting four of this group of seven, I have yet to find one of these guys with an over-inflated ego and too self-absorbed to want to be face-to-face with his customer base. They continue to blow my mind, and La Salle is no exception.

I get the sense that Stephen has a low key, easy going personality which probably serves him well in what I can only imagine to be a highly stressful job. However, when he gets down to work, his game face shows nothing but focus as he prepares his meals, and the swiftness and ease at which he moves around the kitchen is truly something to witness.

If you’re ever in Ottawa and want to have one of the best dining experiences of your life, make sure to visit Stephen La Salle at The Albion Rooms. Oh, and don’t forget to Tweet or Instagram your experience as he loves to engage with people on social media.

I hope you’re enjoying this chef series featuring the Bytown Chefs Collective as much as I’m enjoying producing it. I’d love to hear your feedback on the series, or stories about great dining experiences in the comments. Here is a gallery from the shoot…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Roy G. BIV

Since moving to Ottawa last spring, I have written many, many, many times about how beautiful the city and it’s surrounding area are. Heck, even CBC says that Ottawa sunsets are among the most beautiful in Canada.

Sometimes I don’t have to look far to see the constant stream of beauty we have around here. I took this shot with my phone from the end of my driveway last summer after a brief storm. It was the first time either of my boys had ever seen a rainbow. The moment became a personal highlights from our first year in the city, and I often look back on it to think about the wonderful day we had as a family that day.

rainbow

Chef Portraits: Butcher David Wallace

My ongoing photo series on Ottawa chef group, the Bytown Chefs Collective, didn’t take me far from my house to meet and photograph the next member. Today I’d like to introduce you to the Cobden Rd Butcher, David Wallace, owner and head butcher at Around The Block Butcher Shop. Oh, and he’s got a knife collection that would make Mick Dundee jealous.

david wallace

Formerly known as Brian’s Butchery & Deli, David worked at the shop for three or four years before he was presented with the opportunity to buy the shop and assume responsibility as Head Butcher. In 2014 he did just that, re-branded the company with a new name and logo, and brought in a host of locally produced meats and preserves. At just 27 years old and working six days a week, David embodies the qualities that this new wave of culinary artists need in order to survive and thrive in their industry. And his timing couldn’t be better.

David’s presence in the shop is infectious, and is one of the reasons why his business succeeds. He knows his customers by name, and makes time to chat and share a few laughs with each one. He works with local farmers, coffee companies, and canning companies, and offers the best products he can at the most competitive prices. And with supermarket prices continuing to rise as they are, it’s no wonder people are turning to support local business like David’s.

Like the other members of his Collective, David possesses an openness, inventiveness, and willingness to collaborate with colleagues in the city. While visiting the shop in the middle of the week, it meant he wasn’t butchering so much as serving his customers and attending to the deli side of the business. However, two nights earlier David teamed up with chef Stephen La Salle of The Albion Rooms to prepare sausages for Stephen’s Beer Banger Bash, a special brunch collaboration with Beau’s Brewery that kicked of Craft Beer Week.

David Wallace is a smart and savvy businessman, and he is a role model for young entrepreneurs. I wish his business the best of luck and look forward to being the newest member of his growing list of customers.

Chef Portraits: Kyle Proulx

Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with and shoot the second member of the Bytown Chefs Collective (BCC), Kyle Proulx, Head Chef at Lowertown Brewery.

kyle proulx

I met up with Kyle at his new restaurant, Lowertown Brewery, in the uber-busy Byward Market in downtown Ottawa. Lowertown Brewery is the latest addition to the Ontario craft beer scene, which has really become a major part of Ottawa. Literally working around the corner from his friend and Bytown Chefs Collective partner Paul Dubeau (my first shoot in the series), Kyle’s restaurant and working style posed a stark contrast to Paul’s, which I think (and hope) help makes this series an interesting one.

untitled-366

In my first shoot at Stella, Paul’s kitchen was exactly what I imagined a restaurant kitchen to be – compact; efficient; hidden from view; and with the head chef at the centre of the action, calling orders and plating the dishes. Kyle’s kitchen however, was an enormous open concept; and set up so that Kyle faced the cook team, called out the orders, made finishing touches to the plates, and summoned the servers. Think of a quarterback at the line and you’ll get the gist.

Kyle has an intensity that I don’t see in very many people. Many people at my age and younger seem to take life for granted and demand the riches without working for it. Kyle does not appear to be that type of young professional. As we talked and walked through the Market, I learned a bit about his background and how he got to where he is today. kyle proulx rooftopI can only imagine that to succeed in the restaurant industry you have to have your game face on at all times. You have to be aware of what’s going on around you, and you have to find ways to set yourself apart, especially in a densely populated restaurant location such as the Market in Ottawa. With smart phones tucked into the front pockets of their aprons, Kyle and the other members of the BCC show just how important social media and engagement are to their businesses. Without missing a step, these guys can prepare a dish while simultaneously sharing posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Having said all that, Kyle has a great personality and a great gift for gab. He knows how to work hard, have fun, and entertain, and I look forward to seeing him in action with the Bytown Chefs Collective later this year. For now, here are two galleries from the shoot…