He got a taste for the restaurant industry in the 1980s when he was just 14, starting out as a dishwasher before learning the ropes in the kitchens of some of the Market’s most popular restaurants. And though Marc Behiels would go on to study fine art and work in the web-design field for the next few decades, he never lost his fascination with the culinary scene.
When chef Cody Starr announced he was closing The Rex at the end of 2017, Behiels decided to make the leap, grabbing a lease at the cozy Little Italy eatery, renaming it Marc Kitchen (40 Adeline St.), and developing a comfortable lunch menu with a Korean twist to it.
City Bites sat down with Behiels just two weeks after Marc Kitchen’s February 20 opening to get the scoop on the neighbourhood’s newest lunch destination.
You’ve spent the bulk of your career in the marketing and web-design sectors. Why the career jump into the topsy-turvy restaurant world?
Website work is in transition. There’s not as much work in the e-commerce sector and smaller businesses can make their own sites using Squarespace. So big chunks of the market are gone. There’s still work out there, but I felt like now was a good time to take a chance and return to my first love.
I’ve been cooking and sharing my food with my wife and our friends for 14 years — we sometimes host up to 80 people! So I said to all my friends, “I’m opening a restaurant and you have to come and visit me and pay for your meal now.”
There’s a nod to Korea in so many of your menu items. What’s the link?
My wife, Suzie Lee, is Canadian-Korean. She was born in Edmonton and her parents are first generation immigrants, who came here after the Korean War. So I’ve obviously learned a lot about the flavours of Korean food from my family. I’ve also travelled a lot in Thailand and Australia and love the way chefs in this part of the world blend various flavours of East Asia.
You have a long history on the Ottawa restaurant scene. Do tell.
I started in the business when I was 14. My first job was washing dishes at Zak’s Diner in the Market and I worked in the Market throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, learning the ropes and moving into the kitchens. I worked at Blue Cactus, Clair de Lune, Café Bohemian, the original Domus on Dalhousie… I worked in the kitchens at 15 Clarence, which would later turn into The Black Thorn for the better part of five years in the early 90s.
Even when I began working in tech full-time in my mid-20s, I would still ‘guerrilla chef’ at kitchens around town when chefs were short-staffed.
Why open a place here in Little Italy?
I’d been looking for a place for about 18 months and had seen a half-dozen places that weren’t quite right. When my real-estate agent told me this place was coming on the market, I walked through the door and saw Cody [Starr, who owns the building]. I knew it would be a good fit and he’d make it all run smoothly.
There are lots of new condos going up in this area in the next few years so it’s a real neighbourhood on the rise.
Lunch Menu Sneak Peek
All lunch mains are $17 and are served with soup or side salad:
KBBQ Beef Handwich: kim chi / parm / green leaf / dragon sauce
Korean Spicy Pork Bahn Mi: green leaf / pickles / cabbage / cilantro / sour cream
BATman: bacon / greens / tomato / emmental / dragon mayo
Beef or Portobello Burger: tomato / green leaf / kim chi / two-year-old cheddar / dragon mayo
Any plans to open for dinner?
Yes! Starting towards the end of March, the plan is to open for after-work bar snacks (4 pm-6 pm, Thursday and Friday) and dinner (Thursday-Saturday).
If you go to LA and go to a bar in Korean town, you’ll always get bar snacks. I’m going to be making things like tteok (spicy rice cakes), zucchini sticks (grilled w/ spicy side dipping sauce), and Korean wings — sweet and spicy. I think people are really going to like that.
Dinner items will also have a bit of a Korean twist to most plates. The big themes in Korean food are garlic, onions, and chilis. It’s all about the chilies and the peppers!