Devinder Chaudhary and his son Raghav Chaudhary have big plans. They’re the pair behind a new restaurant in the former Hy’s Steakhouse space, an institution in Ottawa’s political circles for over 30 years.
Hy’s was known for its old-world atmosphere, a traditional menu (with lots of steak), white tablecloths, and fine service — and the price tag that comes with all of that. Aiāna, which means ‘eternal flower’ in a Somali dialect, will also cater to clients not terribly worried about the cost of their meal, but those looking for a “world-class experience,” says Devinder.
“We see Aiāna as sitting at the intersection of business and politics,” he explains, “and it will be formal, but not stiff. We will offer impeccable service and the entire package will speak for itself.”
If chef Raghav had decided to follow in his father’s footsteps to become an accountant, Aiāna might never have been born. But after three years of an accountancy degree, Raghav decided he couldn’t see his future in that business. So he collected the insurance on his car following an accident and signed himself up at the Cordon Bleu cookery school in Ottawa. He also found a job as a line cook at Vittoria Trattoria in the Byward Market, working his way up to sous-chef. Then he spent 18 months at the Culinary Institute of America in California, as well as stages at a host of Michelin starred restaurants including Michael Mina, and Fäviken, in Sweden.
Raghev and his father are making a focused effort to attract employees who wish to build a career in the industry. This is reflected in the full name, Aiāna Restaurant Collective.
“People who work in this business are professionals and they deserve more respect. It is our intent not to be a minimum wage employer and we’ll be paying a living wage,” explains Devinder. “Aiāna will offer full-time permanent salaried positions to our entire staff. Service charges will be included in our prices and there will be no tipping.”
Linebox, the architectural and design firm behind Shopify offices and such restaurants as Fauna and El Camino, has designed the interiors at Aiāna. The restaurant will feature an elegant decor with tones of grey and teal, as well as textures of stone, tile, and pale wood.
“The clients fell in love with a black and gold feature tile that inspired the rest of the scheme,” says Linebox’s Amanda Ferguson. “It will be featured in focal locations, like the plating area. We are also introducing a beautiful brass hood to draw the eye to the heart of the restaurant, the kitchen.”
There’s a huge ceiling sculpture in the works, a blossom similar to the restaurant’s logo, created by Linebox designer Caleb Rempel. It features laser cut, powder-coated aluminum armatures with stones hand-strung on coated stainless steel wire. He describes it as a “constant garden of refinement, many disparate elements combined to create a focused whole”. There will be 13 arms to the sculpture, with approximately 1,200-1,300 stones, all hand strung by Rempel.
The restaurant will also feature a glass-fronted 800-bottle wine cellar. “We want this to become the wine place,” says Devinder.
On your plate
“Aiāna is a Canadian farm-to-table restaurant,” says Raghav. “Considering Canada as a multicultural environment, our dishes will reflect the flavours and nuances from the vast diversity amongst Canadian people.”
The restaurant will be serving an à la carte menu for lunch and dinner, with a tasting menu to be offered on select nights in the private dining room that seats 20. (The main section seats 80.)
“We are building a philosophy of translating Canadian heritage onto our plates whilst telling a story of our culture,” he says. “We will be featuring our twist on a classic poutine, roasted bone marrow, bannock, tourtières, terrines, house-cured charcuterie and homemade preserves, pickles, vinegars, ferments, and liquors,” he explains. “We plan on using proteins and produce which are indigenous to the land and water; salmon, trout, sturgeon, geoduck, elk, boar, bison are some proteins; Sea Buckthorn, haskaps, black walnut, spruce, corn, squash, fiddle heads, and allium some vegetables and fruit.”
Tu Le, a chef trained at the Cordon Bleu, will handle the pastry program, which will include house-made bread and ice creams, and an even an elegant take on the Eton Mess.
Local suppliers will include Juniper Farms, Backyard Edibles, Mariposa, O’Brien’s Farm, Brome Lake Duck and Chantal Plante from the Parkdale Market. There will be a craft brew list to include Overflow Brewing Company, Bicycle Craft Brewery, Dominion City Brewery, and Orleans Brewing Co.