A more satisfying dining experience starts with being informed!
I almost never get tired of cooking at home, but the occasional trip to a restaurant is definitely a welcomed treat. I tend to favour chef-owned spots where I know the kitchen is committed to incorporating top quality local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients into dishes made with care and attention. Fortunately, we are blessed with quite a number of spots like this in Ottawa. Now, there’s an innovative project called Transparent Kitchen which is helping to educate diners on the fine work that’s happening in restaurants in a number of Ontario cities, including Ottawa.
Transparent Kitchen is a portal that lets diners peek inside the kitchens of a range of restaurants in Ottawa/Gatineau, Guelph, Toronto, Kitchener and Niagara. Founded in Ottawa in 2016 by Fraser Nagy, there are now 25 restaurants in our region on the Transparent Kitchen website. “It was Fraser’s experience working in the restaurant industry that sparked the concept,” says Kelsey Nording, Transparent Kitchen’s communications director. “Having worked at several high-end establishments, he had an ‘aha moment’ after listening to diners complain about the cost of the great meals they were enjoying while at the same time also hearing chefs grumbling that people did not even stop to think about where the ingredients in the food they were eating had come from. On top of this, he was puzzled as to why people would choose to patronize mediocre chain establishments based on nothing more than a printed menu in the window.”
Fraser decided that what was needed was a way to make the dining experience more informed and interactive. He chose to make it his mission to help people become more aware of the work done by quality independent restaurants, to increase knowledge of and awareness of growers and suppliers and, of equal importance, share the storytelling that is part of a great food experience. Transparent Kitchen aims to give diners as much information as possible about a restaurant, based on objective criteria, not subjective reviews.
Restaurants must meet several key requirements to be included on the Transparent Kitchen site, notes Kelsey. “They have to have a real chef, cook from scratch, be privately owned and be prepared to showcase where their food comes from. If they tick all these boxes, they are the kind of place that we know will be the right fit to work with us and connect diners with suppliers in a transparent way.”
Participating restaurants pay a fee to be listed on the site; their subscription nets them crisp descriptions and gorgeous photos of their establishment, chef(s) and several menu items, updated seasonally. Included in the descriptions of the dishes are key ingredients and their source. As soon as I saw that, I immediately began to wonder what it would be like to cook with the same stuff chefs use. When I was asked to give the Transparent Kitchen experience a try by perusing their site then selecting a restaurant, I eagerly said yes. As soon as saw the images from Supply and Demand, one of my favourite Ottawa restaurants, I knew where I wanted to dine. I mean, look at these dishes:
After an exquisite meal, I came home eager to try my hand at recreating the menu items I had enjoyed at Supply and Demand. I had to do a little running around to source similar quality ingredients as used at Supply and Demand, but the hunt was informative and, for someone like me who considers shopping for food a favourite hobby, fun. Kelsey told me that the process is about to get a whole lot easier as later this year, any supplier on the Transparent Kitchen platform that runs an online store with Shopify will be able to sell their products directly via the Transparent Kitchen site (with the exception of beer and wine). Another innovation for 2018 will be the launch of a search functionality which will allow you to search an ingredient such as scallops and then be shown every scallop dish on the platform. As Kelsey notes, “It will be perfect for those pesky cravings!”
The dishes I prepared (based on what I had eaten at Supply and Demand) included kale salad with caper vinaigrette, tuna crudo with truffle oil vinaigrette, beef tartare (a dish I adore but had never made at home before) and seared duck breast with celery root puree. (I’ll add links to each recipe as soon as it gets posted online.) While my interpretations differ slightly from the Supply and Demand versions, I can confirm that each dish is exceptionally tasty and well worth any home cook’s time and money.
This experiment confirmed my long-held belief that good food starts with good ingredients, whether you’re a professional chef or an enthusiastic amateur. I’ll definitely be making Transparent Kitchen the first place I look when I’m eager to make a restaurant reservation, particularly if I’m in an unfamiliar city that they feature on their site. I’ll also be very keen to test out their online shopping portal when it comes online later this year. I cannot wait to see how far Transparent Kitchen is able to extend its platform into other cities as it strives to build a community of like-minded people who appreciate the farm to table movement and want to know where their food comes from.
Disclaimer: To prepare this post, I enjoyed a complimentary meal at Supply and Demand but opinions expressed are, as always, my own.