Eating & Drinking

Goodbye John Taylor! Local food advocate made his mark on capital cuisine

I remember the tweet like it was sent last week: “Yep, we’re done.”

It was from chef John Taylor and it appeared on the Domus Café feed on May 26, 2014. “Thanks to everyone for the last 18 years, it was a blast! But time to move on!

He and his wife Sylvia moved on to their second restaurant, hunkering down at Taylor’s Genuine Kitchen & Wine, where he fed his Old Ottawa South neighbours some of the finest food in the city. But this weekend, Taylor announced he had sold his second restaurant. The plan is to head to British Columbia, where the Taylors’ sons now live.

The evolution of a distinct food culture in the capital is perhaps John Taylor’s greatest legacy. Twenty years ago, when Ottawa restaurants were serving ‘Continental’ cuisine, receiving goods from wherever, Taylor was forging relationships with farmers, foragers, cheese makers … and creating menus to showcase their product.

I remember chatting with an elk farmer a few years ago about John Taylor’s impact on his Kanata business. For Tom Van Eeghan of The Elk Ranch, Taylor was the forefather of regional cuisine. “When I first started peddling my elk meat at the Carp Farmers’ Market, no one would touch it,” he told me. “No restaurant would take it. But then Taylor came calling. He wanted our product. He was putting it on his menu. It gave our meat authenticity and it opened the doors.” His pitch to other restaurant chefs: “John Taylor has our elk.” That did the trick.

Taylor’s approach to putting locally sourced, seasonal, healthy products on the plate was one thing. The fact he had such a clear understanding of flavour, texture, colour, and visual pow was quite another. And his menu wasn’t just compatible with the season; it always seemed to match the day, precisely what you wanted to eat right at that moment.

Taylor is, indisputably, one of this city’s most respected chefs. Over the years, he has trained, inspired, and mentored legions of young cooks who have worked in his kitchens. Many of them have gone on to make their own sizable mark on Ottawa’s restaurant scene. So yes, he’ll be missed, but what a legacy he’s leaving behind.

It’s been a pleasure eating and writing about his food these past 20 years, from my first bites at Chantilly Haute Cuisine, through the Domus and Taylor days. I’d like to thank him for all of that and wish him well.