Culinary creativity in the capitalPublished on July 30, 2012

  • Matt Carmichael.

  • (Photo by Paula Roy)

It's no surprise that creative people are often food fans. Cooks work their magic on raw ingredients - the ultimate blank canvas - making for memorable dining experiences.

Thus, it came as no surprise that over 100 people turned up at the Ottawa School of Art early on a Friday morning in late July for a barely-advertised talk by one of Ottawa's top chefs, Matt Carmichael, billed as a discussion of culinary creativity.

Presented by CreativeMornings, Chef Carmichael's appearance marked the second event in a monthly speaker series and morning gathering for creative types. Organized by Sharif Virani and Michael Grigoriev, Ottawa's CreativeMornings are part of a network of similar events taking place in over 30 cities around the world.

One of Ottawa's most respected chefs, Matt is well-known for serving as executive chef at E18ghteen, Social and Sidedoor restaurants. Most recently, he was the genius behind Mellos Pop-up Kitchen, a temporary yet wildly popular dining experience that made use of an iconic diner during its off-hours.

Ottawa is an ideal place to have a conversation about culinary creativity, given that our city has the greatest number of restaurants per capita in all of Canada and an increasing number of chef-owned establishments.

To Matt, culinary creativity is all about making good use of both innovation and design when it comes to the dining experience.

As Matt explained, his own culinary journey mirrors what is happening throughout the food industry, especially locally. We've got great, innovative restaurants often being housed in gorgeous, historic buildings where the food is fresh and inspired.

He noted that he particularly enjoys making periodic career changes to learn from new mentors and gain new knowledge and inspiration.

He cited the innovative Parts & Labour in Toronto as a wonderful example of culinary creativity, using a clip from a funky video ( to illustrate his point that you cannot underestimate the importance of design in creating a memorable dining experience.

Matt described the pop-up kitchen as "an experiment gone right", in which the lack of clear definition was part of its appeal. It gave him a chance to take some of his most popular dishes from the past and present them in different ways (a nod to the effectiveness of juxtaposing old and new).

"The pop-up was all about simple, honest food; stripping things down to what restaurants used to be, with humility in both food and design yet boasting a great vibe. I plan to use this foundation in my next restaurant venture."

While the audience was no doubt eager to hear where the self-proclaimed "unemployed chef" would next be unpacking his knives, Matt didn't dish on his future plans.

He has stated publicly that he would like to open a taco and raw bar establishment on Elgin Street this fall, but hasn't divulged many details yet.

Suffice it to say it's likely going to be different than anything else we have in Ottawa, particularly given Matt's closing statement that, "a restaurant should create a story."

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