Interview with a chef

Interview with a Chef: Ottawa Ribfest’s Matt Smith of Gator BBQ

Nick Smith, left, and his father Matt, of Gator BBQ.


For over 30 years, Gator BBQ has been delivering mouth-watering chicken, pulled pork and ribs to the hungry crowds of Rib Fests all across North America. Touring Canada and the Northern United States, the Smith family of Port Dover continue to win countless awards and events with their signature southern BBQ cuisine. On the eve of Ottawa Ribfest, I caught up with Matt Smith to discuss his humble BBQ beginnings, his secret for achieving great tasting barbecue and if he ever gets tired of being around so much BBQ!

How did you get involved in the BBQ business?
By accident mostly. I used to be part of the carnival circuit for Conklin Shows and eventually crossed paths with a fella who ran these Ribfests. I started my own team and its grown from there—must be 20 years at least. We were there at the very start!

Tell me about the BBQ process. Boil or bake? Smoker? Hardwood or gas?
Always smoked. Ribs, pork and chicken are done in our smoker (Southern Pride) for various times depending on the meat. Although the fuel is propane, there’s a wood oven that heats the smoker and pumps the heated smoke throughout. (more…)

Interview with a Chef: Sheila Lynch of Three Tarts Bakery

White Chocolate, Cranberry and Toasted Pistachio Tart

I discovered Three Tarts Bakery a few years back. It started with one tart: White Chocolate, Cranberry and Toasted Pistachio. You would think that the sweetness of the chocolate would overpower the other flavours. Wrong! The tangy cranberries make themselves heard and the pistachios lend a nice crunch allowing an insinuation of nuttiness.

I then began my exploration of the cookies. While chocolate chip, oatmeal and shortbreads cookies generally get all the glory, I prefer the less vaunted “decorated cookies.” Three Tarts is a temple to the art of decorated cookies. Miniature edible masterpieces done in artful symmetry. There’s something about biting off a bunny’s ear or chomping on the tail of a whale that just fills me with joy. (more…)

Interview with a Chef: Chef Ric Watson of the Ottawa Mission

For the last 15 years, Chef Ric Watson has been at the helm of one of the busiest kitchens in the City, the Ottawa Mission Homeless Shelter. He was propelled toward the profession by a childhood determination to learn how to cook well. But, his stellar achievements at the Shelter were attained through a combination of hard work and an unwavering passion for those less fortunate.  It was a passion fostered by empathy, having himself overcome a perilous life of drugs, alcohol and homelessness. The Mission kitchen now offers him a platform on which to marshal the support of the community and to champion the benefits of a good, well-prepared meal. I sat down with Chef Ric recently to discuss his humble culinary beginnings, his groundbreaking food training program, the insane cost of celery, and the upcoming February 20th fundraiser, Coldest Night of the Year. (more…)

Q&A with Chef Kirk Morrison of Restaurant 18

Restaurant 18 has been a mainstay of Ottawa’s fine dining scene since 2001. After a company shake-up last fall, Kirk Morrison was installed as the restaurant’s Chef de cuisine. Drawn to cooking at a young age, the 30-year-old chef fondly recalls his initial toe in the water as a budding young chef, cooking alongside his dad. Now at the helm of one of the top restaurants in the city, Morrison showcases menus that display an impressive set of skills he’s been developing since he interned under superstar Chef Lynn Crawford at the Four Seasons. I caught up with Chef Morrison to discuss his culinary roots, his experience feeding hungry Olympians, his earnest stint as a butcher, and the evolution of his recent menu.

Do you come from a family of foodies?
My dad was actually a doctor, but he was an amazing home cook and that’s where I picked it up. He always had me on the counter when I was a kid. You know — making breakfast for the family in the morning or helping with dinner parties on the weekend, even watching the Urban Peasant on TV together — that kind of stuff.  That’s what I grew up with. That was one of the reasons I gravitated towards professional cooking because, through my dad, I acquired a respect and passion for food at a very young age. My mom still doesn’t cook. Can’t boil an egg to save her life.

Sometimes it’s just not in ya.
She [mom] never had to. My dad would always do the cooking. At the end of the day, that’s where I got my kick-in-the-pants to go and become a chef. I remember when I finished high school, my dad and I were talking and looking at possible universities, and I just wasn’t keen on anything. I didn’t want to go to university. It just didn’t look fun and none of the subjects interested me. I had been working in a few kitchens, but nothing on a professional level at that point. When my dad said, “Why don’t you go to cooking school?” I just never had thought about it as a career option. “Why don’t you learn to be a chef,” he said. And, from the time he said that, to the time that I applied and got accepted to George Brown, it was probably three months. It was incredibly quick. It was the year of the double cohorts when all these kids in grade 12 and 13 were applying to colleges and universities at the same time. There was so much competition. And, the fact that I got into one of the top culinary schools in the country was so incredibly surprising to me. It was a crazy experience and a bit of a whirlwind from that point. All I remember is that conversation, and then all of a sudden I was walking into my first day at chef school. Looking back on it, it was the first day of the rest of my cooking life, so to speak.