Chef Kirk Morrison

Restaurant Review: Restaurant 18

Sometimes friends fade from your life and you wake up one day and say, “Whatever happened to so and so?” There was no scrap or disagreement. Life merely got in the way. As with an old friend, this can also happen with some formerly often-visited haunt. Back in the day, for me, Restaurant 18 was the place to be. Then, for no apparent reason, it faded from my consciousness. So after Restaurant 18’s decade-long absence from my regular restaurant rotation, I decided it was high time for me to zip back in and visit my old friend.

Much has happened there since I last visited. After a company shake-up last fall, Kirk Morrison was installed as the restaurant’s Chef de cuisine. Now at the helm of one of the top restaurants in the city, Mr. Morrison reinvigorated the menu, displaying an impressive set of skills he’s been developing since he interned under superstar Chef Lynn Crawford at the Four Seasons. The dining room has been made over in muted earth tones, rendering the space dark, moody and elegant. Think Paris-chic with striking modernistic design influences. But, it’s the food that stands out the most for me at Restaurant 18.  And, there is no better way to test the mettle of a chef than to make your way through the tasting menu.

The evening started off on the right foot with an amuse bouche, Pacific northwest oysters on the half-shell. Although I was self-conscious about tossing back a few in such a graceful setting, I knew after the first bite that Restaurant 18 and I were taking up where we had left off all those many years ago. The initial slurp was briny and oceanic; the flesh of the oyster, robust. Then the flavours crescendoed to a fruity, cucumber-melon finish. Unfussy and flawless.


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.


The best thing I ate this month – March 2015

Restaurant 18 spring salad

I stared at it like I would an expressionist painting. What was his vision? His Motivation? Was he in pain? Troubled? Inebriated? No. Just “Inspired by spring,” I was told. As a visual, it was bright and uplifting, expressive and assured. It pained me to take the first bite and unravel the masterpiece but this canvas was made for savouring.

Layered on a brushstroke of pesto were little diamonds of young yellow beets. The earthy quality of the beets were a perfect match for the refreshingly tender peas, served alongside their shoots. Crisp little domes of pastry hid luxuriously rich duck pâté. The honeycomb gem was a treasure and provided sweetness and unique texture.

There was nothing not to like about this salad. Within a flash I had devoured it. I was sad yet ever so thankful to have enjoyed a wild-fully original gustatory chef-d’oeuvre. Bring on Spring.

This bright jewel of a dish was created by Chef Kirk Morrison for his tasting menu at Restaurant 18. And it was the best thing I ate this month.