Jonathan Korecki

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.

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Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar

18B York Street, Ottawa, ON

You quite literally have to enter the side door to get into Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen + Bar.  Pretty cheeky. Once inside it’s rather expansive. An open-air patio this way to your left, a groovy bar thataway to your right and a mutli-level restaurant straightaway.Consistently noted as one of Ottawa’s finest eateries, Sidedoor is an Asian-fusion restaurant celebrated for two very distinct dishes that are seldom associated with Asia or with fancy-pants dining: tacos and donuts. Although, as we were about to discover, these two dishes have been cleverly brought to inspired levels.It’s essential to remember that the food at Sidedoor is tapas-style, is meant for sharing and is portioned accordingly. The tacos are quite mini, actually. Two bitefulls and it’s over. But it’s not always about how big things are. In this case, the emphasis is on flavour. We sampled the spicy beef, Korean pulled-pork and the Bajan crispy fish tacos. Arranged on soft corn tortillas, they are at once flavourful, delicious, tender, juicy, messy, sinful, dreamy and triumphant. Our personal favourite was the spicy beef tacos with just enough heat and a rightful amount of cool radish and avocado toppings.

Next up, we went for the Coconut-poached halibut. The buttery and tender fish was topped with mango, Thai basil and fresh chili giving every bite an elegant and complex mix of fresh, spicy and sweet.

Finally dessert time had arrived. I’ve never had donuts at a sit-down restaurant, but I was ready. Bring on the white chocolate mint and the white chocolate with cranberry mini donuts. Served pipping hot, they were light and airy with a sweet thin glaze. Easy to eat and share, they were very much worth the wait. I can see myself becoming obsessionally passionate about these swoon-worthy creations.

One thing I observed as the restaurant passed from buzzy happy hour to more serious dinner service, the space retained an almost serene atmosphere, a calmness that can only be described as a pleasure to the senses. We were able to have a conversation without resorting to hollering at each other. Very refreshing.

As for the food, it belongs in rarefied circles. Sidedoor’s chef Jonathan Korecki has been able to elevate the lowly donut and taco and make them so good that they transcend mere adjectives. Having now dined there, regular appearance on the “best-of-the-best lists” come as no surprise.  Consider this food blogger’s taste buds amazed. My dreams are now occupied with tacos and donuts!

Sidedoor

Korean pulled-pork taco

Korean pulled-pork taco

Spicy beef taco

Spicy beef taco

Spicy prawn taco

Spicy prawn taco

Green papaya salad

Green papaya salad

Crunchy meatball

Crunchy meatball

Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint

Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint

Coconut-poached halibut

Coconut-poached halibut

White chocolate mint donuts

White chocolate mint donuts

White chocolate cranberry donut

White chocolate cranberry donut

Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon