“Am I in the right place?” he asked me. I was walking into restaurant atelier on Tuesday morning, and Max introduced himself as a cameraman assigned to take some photos of a chef.
“If you’re here for the official presentation of the Canadian Culinary Championships trophy to chef Marc Lepine then yes, this is atelier and yes, you’re in the right place.”
“It’s just that, well, there’s no sign,” he puzzled.
“Yup, that’s just the way they roll here.”
Since 2008, chef Marc Lepine has been astonishing the city with his immensely artistic and pleasurable tasting menu of modernist Canadian cuisine. He’s been stunning the country too: Lepine and his crackerjack team have twice competed and twice won the Canadian Culinary Championships, each time commandingly. And he’s been in the spotlight in a restaurant that’s tough to spot, unencumbered by any kind of name on its door. No formal announcement on a jaunty awning or a sidewalk sign to disturb the view of the modest grey brick garnished with rusted metal grills and a border of rocks.
You know you’ve arrived at atelier by the insistence of Google maps that 540 Rochester Street is indeed the home of the two-time, and current Canadian Culinary Champion (Still, Max wasn’t buying it.)
Eight years ago, when the 22-seat restaurant first opened (now expanded to seat about 50) I figured the sign was on its way. And then I thought, as time went by, ‘surely this year.’ And now I understand: it’s just part of Lepine’s Prohibition-inspired speak-easy-like approach to his restaurant.
Who knows, maybe chefs all across the country will be taking note of the gold medals and national accolades, and be climbing ladders to remove the signage that announces their restaurants too. Clearly, the lack of it works here.
On Tuesday, over lunch, Marc Lepine was officially handed the cup (and the keys to a shiny blue BMW) and feted in atelier’s newly opened upstairs dining room. The Gold Medal Plates team of Stephen Leckie and James Chatto flew in from Toronto with the trophy in hand. There was Ontario bubbly, delicious food by Thyme & Again, congratulations from many sources, and photos of Marc with his team, with the cup, and in his BMW. (The child booster seat in the back was a hint he’d had a few months with the car already, but such things require some fanfare, and speeches and well deserved hurrahs.)
And now the game’s on for this year’s GMP competition: Ten chefs from Ottawa-Gatineau will duke it out at the Shaw Centre on November 7th. One of them will go on to the national event in Kelowna, B.C. Let me remind you who they are:
- Kevin Benes from Carben
- Michael Blackie from NeXT
- Marc Doiron from town
- Mike Houle from The Village House
- Daniela Manrique from The Soca Kitchen
- Jamie Stunt from Soif
- Jon Svazas from fauna
- Joe Thottungal from Coconut Lagoon
- Adam Vettorel from North & Navy
- Richard Wilson from The Pomeroy House
But yesterday belonged to chef Marc Lepine.