By SARAH BROWN
Meet Marc Lepine. Renowned for his clever 12-course menus, the Atelier chef shot to national fame in 2012 when he won gold at the Canadian Culinary Championships, beating out top chefs from across the country for the crown. Since then, reservations at the tiny 22-seat Atelier have been hard to come by. That will change later this summer when Ottawa’s king of molecular gastronomy launches the newly-renovated Atelier, which has doubled in size. Also on Lepine’s current agenda — participation in a nationwide lentil competition and a second restaurant slated to open this fall.
How long have you been planning the expansion of Atelier?
A long time! I originally chose the building [in 2008] because there was the option of expansion, so it was in the back of my mind from the start. But we’ve been hands-on planning for just over two years. The time was right to finally start.
What’s the timeline for the bigger, better Atelier?
We’ve got roughly a month or six weeks of finishing to do, so we’re hoping to open the expanded section in mid-August.
Tell me about the renovation.
We’ve done work on all three levels of the building. There’s a new dining area upstairs, which doubles our capacity to 45. We’re also expanding the kitchen, which is almost tripling in size. That’s great for me — and everyone around me.
Were you trying to achieve a certain look?
To be honest, I’m useless when it comes to that kind of thing. The focus of Atelier is obviously the food, so the design is refined. The colours are black and white to allow the food to “pop” in the room.
Was it fun working with the designers [Urbanomic Interiors]?
I just told them to do their thing! I didn’t have too many specifications beyond the budget. It’s like cooking — if you give someone creative free rein, they’re going to come up with something pretty special. I didn’t want to attach too many rules.
How will the expansion change business?
Really, it just lets us have more guests. But we may do some more group bookings. Maybe I’ll offer a shorter-style menu for a group looking to come in.
I’ve heard rumours that you’re still planning to open a second restaurant. Any truth to that?
Yes. It’s planned for later in the fall.
Anything more you can tell me?
It’s going to be weird and different! I don’t want to talk about it ahead of time — it would take a really long time to explain and I’d like people to try it out and then let them describe it.
Speaking of “different,” you’re one of four Ottawa chefs participating in the Canada-wide FUNdeLENTIL competition this month. How do you get to be on a lentil tour?
Yes, for the month of June I’m cooking with lentils every night [the other restaurants are Murray Street Kitchen, Absinthe, and The Wellington Gastropub]. Anita Stewart from Food Day Canada visited the four restaurants and presented us with this challenge to use Canadian lentils in a dish throughout June.
Did you work regularly with lentils before?
We have featured them lots of times in the past. For this dish we pair two kinds of lentils [red and beluga] with carrots and duck, among other things. It will be on the tasting menu for the month of June so people can try it and vote on their favourite recipe online.
Last question. I saw you recently in a Harry Rosen ad. Tell me about that.
It was a newspaper ad in The Globe and Mail. It ran for a day in May and also in the Harry Rosen catalogue.
How did that come about?
Harry Rosen did this style/chef series of portraits [called Masters of the Grill]. I knew the other four chefs so we had a good time. Ned Bell [Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver], Antonio Park [Park Restaurant in Montreal], Duncan Ly [Raw Bar in Calgary], and Carl Heinrich [Richmond Station in Toronto]. Harry Rosen flew everyone in to Toronto for the night and then the shoot took 2 or 3 hours.
Are you comfortable with the “celebrity thing”?
I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity! But it’s great to get recognition in Ottawa. The city gets forgotten sometimes, I think.