Posts Tagged ‘ottawa’

I learned some sad news last night. Nothing personal, exactly, but it affected me all the same.

Jean-Claude Chartrand, the chef at our favorite restaurant, has died. 

I feel for his family and for those he led. His loss will reverberate throughout the community. And yes, I also feel some personal sorrow. His restaurant is lovely, and going there always felt a bit like coming home. 

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I met Chef Chartrand once or twice in person, but mostly I knew him through his food, and through the warmth and care that showed in his restaurant.

L’Orée du Bois is located in a converted century-old farmhouse, and the dining areas are cozy rooms with exposed wood and windows that overlook the garden, the smoke house, the patio, and the forest.

They added a timbered patio we haven’t been able to try yet, and lined the path through the forest beyond the herb garden with benches, lights, and a fire pit. 

It might be odd to say because I’m an American English speaker with roots far from here, but everything about this French Canadian restaurant suits me. I’ll be honest, it was one of the things that convinced me that I could make this new country a home. That I would fit here.

Because to me, that Québécois restaurant at the wooded edge of Gatineau Park, anchoring this southerly edge of our neighboring province, is perfect.

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L’Orée du Bois is the place we go when we want to celebrate, or take visitors out for a dinner that is both special and comfortable.

The food is inventive, delicious, often surprising and frequently local. It is the type of establishment where wine pairings are spot on, the staff are thoughtful and friendly, maple pops up on the menu with reassuring regularity, and typical haute cuisine rules about avoiding ingredient or menu substitutions are meant to be broken.

My kind of place.

Many of the ingredients are sourced from local producers. Admire a hand thrown butter dish? Enjoy the mushroom medley or the red deer medallion or the fiddleheads? Chances are good that it was made or farmed or harvested nearby. I didn’t know Chef Chartrand, but it was clear he cared about his community.

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When my mother came to visit, we took her there. Chef Chartrand came out to the dining room to speak with us, making sure that everything was good and that we were happy, then stayed to chat a bit under a framed chef’s hat signed by Justin Trudeau and his family. My mother is hard of hearing, and restaurants can be awkward places to talk. The chef was kind and thoughtful and helped make her evening special.

The last time we took my father (he has been several times) we were given a tour of the kitchen, the wine cellar, and sent home with a selection of handmade chocolates.

L’Orée is where Mr. Man took me the first time we visited Ottawa, even before we started talking seriously about moving here. It’s where we went after we bought our house. When I became a Canadian citizen. And the day we married, we took pictures in the herb garden out front while waiting for our table.

Thinking we should expand our horizons, we tried other restaurants, but always came back. The alternatives were always… something. Too crowded, too cold, too bright, too self-important, too self-consciously avant-garde. Too much something, and not enough L’Orée du Bois.

We always went back.

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As the pandemic took hold and lockdowns began to stretch from weeks into months, we worried that the restaurant might not make it. When they opened for takeout, we went as often as we could. Celebrating the holidays without family this year, we ordered bag after bag of take-out to get us through the season. 

Smiling staff handed out hot mulled wine as we waited for our pickup. It’s that kind of place. 

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Information on Chef Chartrand is limited but the announcement mentioned that a staff member tested positive for Covid-19. Just days later, Chartrand was gone. 

L’Orée du Bois chef Jean-Claude Chartrand dies days after his restaurant closes due to a COVID-19 case among staff

Jean-Claude Chartrand, the celebrated chef and co-owner of L’Orée du Bois, has died, just days after a worker at his much-loved West Quebec restaurant tested positive for COVID-19.

For more details on Chartrand, his life, and his community, see this article in Le Soeil (Google translate).

I am sorry for his family, and the region is poorer for his loss.

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We have vaccines. We have hope. But please, for yourselves, for those you love, and for the health of our collective future, stay careful. Stay safe.

We may be close, but danger still lurks. We have not yet reached the edge of the woods.

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Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

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Digging through my files looking for some obscure notes, I ran across this piece of commentary on Ottawa. I wrote it during the first trip up here after Mr. Man convinced me to consider a move, so I was less of a tourist and more a potential consumer. It was also funny to see what I thought the first time I came to this place I now call home.

This was years ago now but the perspective (from inside a coffee shop! full of people! unmasked!) caught my attention.

Look, I thought, this is how it was, once upon a time, and how it will one day be again.

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OTTAWA 10:18 on a Monday morning and I’m in a Starbuck’s. We’re situated in one of the ubiquitous strip malls that remind me of Denver, and it’s surprisingly busy. What I’ve noticed so far: Canadians are generally not interested in bumper stickers. They seem to be much more interested in the resale value of their cars than in informing their fellow passersby that they oppose free trade, or love puppies, or want to follow their bliss (which, let’s be honest, often looks a lot like a 18-wheel truck halfway through a 48-hour run between New York city and Las Vegas). How committed can they be, I ask you, if they aren’t willing to sacrifice a bit of paint for their cause? Honestly. 

I’m freezing in here, as the climate control unit appears to be set up for a constant stream of hot-blooded Northerners, all anxious for their coffee fix. There is a constant flow of conversation as well, as interestingly plebeian as any space designed to provide a safe haven for meeting, greeting, and eating. A couple of enthusiastically large women are discussing jobs (one just lost hers due to her refusal to sign some important yet binding piece of paper and she’s happy as a clam to be anywhere that isn’t at work with her tool of a boss), kids (they don’t look old enough to have them but they do, along with husbands, tattoos, concerned mothers, and similarly unemployed friends to drink with at 11:00 in the morning. 

The cars are mostly new out here; we’re down South of the city now, in one of the several growing areas of development focused on providing big shiny new buildings for high-tech and other companies, large houses on tiny lots, gravid with the cars necessary to live in such a spread-out region. It’s not my kind of place, but I can see that it appeals to a lot of people. People who want to drive new cars from the office two blocks down the street to get a grande half-fat half-soy mocaccino with caramel on top. Not that I’m making fun, mind you. I’m drinking what appears to be a banana smoothie but is in fact a vente orange mango vivanno. I just don’t want to buy a car. Another sad note, the wireless here is decidedly not free.

One thing I notice is that as the day wears on, the brand new cars and fancy dress are replaced by a little more rust, more single women with artistically highlighted hair, fewer professionals. Perhaps this is more like an American experience than I’d expected, and I’ll see an influx of students come in soon with bags under their eyes, laptops, and the look of perennial stress that marks the perpetually intellectual. Ah, but wait, what’s this? A taste of home writ large, in the form of a bronze and white two-tone Chevy Bel Air flaunting the high gas prices as effectively as it does the slim parking spot it is bursting out of. Home sweet home. A Toyota hatchback the size of a basketball shoe slips into a slot nearby, its more practical size offset by an undeniable air of regret for its lost stature.

Most of the darker-skinned people I’ve seen so far here are South Asian. Yesterday, the lack of fellow African Americans left me feeling lonely, but on the plus side there will be whole new ethnicities to be mistaken for, and the food’s bound to be tasty. Not surprisingly, though, white prevails here. Outdoor tan white with big boots and pickup trucks, soft lumpy white with purses and a coffee and keys and flip-flops and two kids and a mini-van, self-conscious white striving for haute couture and perfect hair while casting constant glances at nearby windows to check, just to be sure, and big hand solid grip white, leading a child through a crowded room to safety.* 

Am I’m the only person here working on a laptop? Everyone else is either reading the paper or chatting with a friend. Wait! I see another fellow typist working in the far corner, injecting caffeine to spur the process along. That’s reassuring. I don’t mind being a foreigner, with darkish skin and a predilection for over-tipping due to acute unfamiliarity with the local currency, but surely we’re all in the same century, yah? Or perhaps not, since everyone else seems to have a cell phone, a car, a purse or pockets no doubt brimming with cutting edge technology, and I, I have only my little laptop. Thank God. I don’t think I could stand to be any more connected frankly. Am I antisocial, or just old school? I prefer to think the latter, and I support my argument with the fact that I will be keeping my loom, my books on food preservation without modern methods, and my books on basic survival under situations of extreme duress. I’m not anti-people, I’m just a geek.**

The people here are kind, I find. We crisscrossed a number of neighborhoods yesterday checking out the environment and looking for rental signs, and at one point stopped by the side of the road to take stock of our progress and plan out next steps. A woman knocked on the window and asked if we needed help. She’d seen the tell-tale signs of otherness: Massachusetts license plate, big map, pen and paper spread out before us. Of course, we weren’t lost at all but it was a great opportunity to chat with a woman who had lived in the Old Ottawa South area for the better part of her life, and was eager to help us spot the three or four houses in the area with for-rent signs. It was the sort of thing that might happen in any neighborhood anywhere, but that fact that at no time did I wonder if she had a pistol concealed in her handbag made it that much sweeter.

The bad news, of course, is that everyone seems to agree that Old Ottawa South is the best neighborhood in the entire city, and are unwilling to move out and give us our chance to experience it for ourselves. Perhaps we’ll find a place there. The fact that the squirrels are cute, fluffy, and completely black threw me. Not gray, not a ruddy brown, but black, like a shadow of a squirrel that’s escaped from its owner. Another non-surprise is that one is expected to pay a little something extra for the sunshine and water, the trees and green grass that tickles the toes. We’ll have to decide how far we want to travel down that road, softly green and floral scented though it may be. 

The river and canal are pretty as pictures, though, if pictures could capture the sense of motion inherent in a body of water surrounded by the swirl of cars, children, and the insufferably fit. 

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* This initial impression only captured part of the picture. The city is a great mix of ethnicities and countries of origin.

** I have a cell phone now but still don’t use it much:)

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Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3464o.pm010730

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Tornado touched down in Ottawa Monday…

A funnel cloud. In Ottawa. And it’s the, um, 10th Ontario tornado of the season, according to Environment Canada.

Yes, Dorothy, the climate does seem to be changing.

A critical question: If a tree falls in the woods… do you have insurance?

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