What sparked your interest in the local food movement? I attended Stratford Chefs School and found the program to be absolutely life-changing because we got to meet so many farmers and work with the freshest produce and herbs. It was very inspiring and I knew that it would influence my career as a chef.
Is Pelican Seafood Market and Grill your first deep dive into working with fish? After Stratford I worked at Sooke Harbour House near Victoria where the local fisherman would show up at our door straight from the docks with their catch of the day. I fell in love with fish there.
What brought you back to Ottawa? It was more feasible to open my own place here rather than Victoria. My goal with the Urban Pear was to add to the city’s limited casual fine-dining options in the early 2000s, creating a west-coast vibe and capitalizing on the connections we were forging with local farmers. I’m very proud of what we accomplished there before selling it to focus on the food truck.
How did your partnership with Pelican happen? Although the food truck had been extremely successful—some days we sold out in 45 minutes—I began to think about selling it. A chance meeting with Pelican co-owner Jim Foster made me realize we could create an effective partnership instead, hence the birth.
After 27 years in the industry, what keeps you inspired and motivated? The ingredients! I love a beautiful piece of halibut or the smell of a freshly-shucked oyster; every year I get excited for the first strawberries of the season. Now that I am older, I also particularly appreciate the chance to join a great team like we have here.
Why have you chosen so many different culinary opportunities? I’ve really tried to jump on all the chances that have come my way and stay ahead of the curve. Trying different things helps re-ignite my passion for food, so I guess change is good for me.
Any advice for someone considering becoming a chef? Be prepared to work extremely hard! Get a job in a kitchen before you commit to culinary school, but do go to school to get the best foundation possible. Buy and read every cookbook you can get your hands on and play around with food at home.
What changes are you working on for Pelican? Our fall menu will feature some new dishes including meat, vegetarian and gluten-free options. We’re also preparing to launch Pelican’s “School of Fish” which will offer unique, intimate hands-on culinary experiences in a working kitchen; giving guests a chance to learn, play, have fun and eat some really great seafood.
Chef Ben’s top tips for cooking fish
- Buy the freshest fish you can find from a reputable fishmonger.
- Start by drying the fish on clean paper towel, then season before placing in a hot pan.
- Don’t overcook it.