If you’ve never been to Atelier, you’ll want to add it to your Ottawa bucket list as soon as possible.
Located at 540 Rochester St., just steps from Ottawa’s Little Italy neighbourhood, Atelier is housed in an unassuming, grey building with no sign. Perhaps reflecting the personality of its warm, humble and down-to-earth owner, Atelier sort of quietly blends into its surroundings. But don’t let its simple exterior façade fool you; inside, an exciting culinary adventure awaits!
In an interview with Ottawa Tourism, Lepine said that he always had the desire to open his own restaurant. “It was always something that was in the back of my head,” he said. Prior to opening Atelier, Lepine attended culinary school, got his sommelier certification and was the Executive Chef at the Courtyard Restaurant in Ottawa’s ByWard Market neighbourhood for six years. “I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do it,” Lepine said. “But I just started working on it and eventually, I got there.” He added however that he had a vision for his new restaurant, its unique menu and its kitchen for a long time.
What makes Atelier unique is that it offers a culinary adventure, as guests don’t know what their gourmet 12-course meal will consist of. “People can expect a 12-course meal that is served blind,” Lepine said. “They have no idea what they’ll be eating.” Worried? Don’t be. You can trust that each course conceals a delicious surprise.
According to Lepine, Atelier offers “a dynamic and visual food journey,” meaning that not only are the courses delicious, they are visually impressive as well. “People will be eating a lot of different things that they’re not necessarily expecting or used to eating,” he said. “It’s not anything that you can make at home.”
Thanks to an extensive kitchen that utilizes tools such as a cotton candy machine, vaporizers, dehydrators and about 150 litres of liquid nitrogen a week, Lepine has been known to create edible balloons, multi-coloured sugar ribbons and edible music notes, among many other impressive items. Sometimes, your plate is so lovely that it’s almost a shame to destroy and eat it. “Untraditional would be the best way to put it,” Lepine said.
Another unique aspect of Atelier, Lepine noted, is that it has its own garden in the warmer weather months. From it, Lepine said, the restaurant pulls useful ingredients such as tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and various herbs, to name a few items. “I find it to be a pretty unique thing,” he said, “to have a plentiful garden right in the middle of the city.” Lepine added: “It isn’t something I’ve experienced at any other restaurant I’ve worked at.” Lepine also noted that what makes Ottawa’s culinary scene unique is the amount of fresh produce that is available throughout the city.
In terms of Ottawa itself, Lepine told Ottawa Tourism that one of his favourite things about the city is its small-town feel. He noted that Ottawa feels like a small town, but it still offers all the conveniences of a big city such as great shopping malls and an [National Hockey League] team. “It’s just such a great mix of both,” he said. “It’s just the right size.”
Lepine also noted that he enjoys all of the festivals that take place in Ottawa throughout the year. “It feels like there’s always something exciting going on,” he said. He noted that most chefs he speaks to say that their restaurants slow down after the holiday season. “But in February for example, when Winterlude is going on, Ottawa is booming,” Lepine said. “It’s pretty special.”
In terms of where visitors to Ottawa should go, Lepine said that it depends on the time of the year. Lepine noted that during Winterlude, Jacques-Cartier Park is popular for families because of the giant ice slides. “Then in May, I’d send them to the [Canadian] Tulip Festival,” he said. In terms of areas, Lepine noted that he likes Ottawa’s Wellington West neighbourhood. “There are so many great restaurants down there,” he said. “That would be one of the spots I enjoy going to.”
Thinking of spending an evening at Atelier? Lepine noted that in the past year, the restaurant has doubled in size, growing from 20 seats on one floor to 44 seats on two floors. He also added that if you’ve been to the restaurant before, your experience will be different. “We’re always changing things and always coming up with new ideas,” he said, adding that aspects of the menu change from one week to the next.
To learn more about Chef Lepine and his restaurant, visit www.atelierrestaurant.ca.