Welcome to 24 Sussex, Ottawa
By George Pandi 

©Photo by Lois Siegel

George Pandi
Ottawa-based travel and food writer
Tries to teach the world where to go and what to eat and drink
Proud honourary member of the Canadian Culinary Federation

When the prime minister went looking for a chef, Josh Drache was it.

About 10 years ago a young friend asked me for help with a life decision. What should he do to become a cook?   "You'd best start with the hospitality program at Algonquin College," I told him. "Then work in a big kitchen to learn mass production. Then, settle for a couple of years in a medium-sized restaurant. Stay away from fusion."  "Thanks," he said. "You've been very helpful."

He then enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, and worked brief stints in many small restaurants. But he is wary of fusion.  I am pleased that my advice helped him to crystallize in his mind what he did not want to do. What he did, worked well.

Josh Drache cooked for former prime minister Paul Martin at 24 Sussex Drive while Martin was in office in Ottawa.

The Home of the Prime Minister

Josh's food interest started early. "I had escargot when I was five. And my mom was an excellent cook." That's important. As Anthony Bourdain, the writing chef, said, "Good cooking is not in the blood; good eating is in the blood."

Cooking came later.

Josh cooked through his university years at Mexicali Rosa's in Montreal, but thought of doing it seriously only after he got his Bachelor of Arts degree. To celebrate his first year at Le Cordon Bleu, the family took him to Maplelawn, one of the best restaurants in Ottawa at the time. There, Josh was so impressed with the cooking that he asked to see the chef. He met Rob MacDonald, whom he calls one of the two major influences on his cooking.

Josh followed MacDonald to the French Embassy to help out at events in an intermittent three-year apprenticeship, then had one short job after another, picking up ideas, learning techniques. "I got something out of each, learned from everyone," he says. Places included the former Trattoria Vittoria in the Glebe, The Eclectic Noodle, Les Fougeres, Opus Bistro and Baco Restaurant and Wine Bar.

He singles out Charles Part, chef-proprietor of Les Fougeres, for special praise: "Charlie has his own style. He's been the other major influence in my career."

Gigs at the French Embassy put him in the circuit with other embassy chefs, and eventually landed him at the residence of the British High Commissioner. The current prime minister and his wife, regular guests there, liked his cooking and, in December 2003, invited him to their kitchen at 24 Sussex Drive.

So, what's good about Josh's cooking?

"I take the intimidation out of it," he says, "I avoid bizarre combinations. I look for balance in the ingredients. I like to cook just good, simple food."

But his idea of simple is not our idea of simple.

When Laura Bush, wife of the United States president, comes to lunch, her simply sautéed Nova Scotia scallops are napped with a hollandaise that gets a little seafood tang from Quebec caviar. Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, got a simple main course: a roast with a starch and a fruit garnish -- but that was roast caribou tenderloin, wild mushroom risotto and Yukon low-bush cranberries.

Keep it simple, but impress the visitors with the best that Canada can produce.

What about cooking on a normal day at the prime minister's residence, I wondered?  "It's normal to expect a surprise every day," says the chef.

Guests may turn up unexpectedly for lunch. A well-filled pantry takes care of those, and he does get advance notice when 300 come to dinner. Otherwise, "it's a kitchen in a home, where someone may wander in asking if there is something to eat."

Personally, I am not attracted to a life in politics. But I could take some stress-relieving perks, like wandering into the kitchen to find Josh balancing instinct and classical training, inventing for me something simple and very good.

Josh says everything for these recipes, can be bought at the Byward Market. Saslove's carries caribou and smoked Arctic char, Lapointe Fish Ltd. has fresh Arctic char. Check La Bottega or the House of Cheese for the Benedictine cheese. This award-winning blue cheese, made by the Abbaye St-Benoit in Quebec, scores again with fresh fruit and ice wine.

Abbaye St-Benoit

You may want to serve his Juniper-Crusted Roast Caribou Tenderloin with wild mushroom barley risotto, partridgeberry compote and grilled asparagus the next time the UN secretary general, or deserving friends, drop by for dinner. Caribou is rich meat, and two tenderloins will serve four to six.

Arctic Char Rillettes

Serves 4

- 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves only
- 1/2 lime, juice only
- 1 cup (250 mL) olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 12 ounces (340 g) boneless Arctic char fillet, skin removed
- Olive oil, to brush on fish and to drizzle on fennel
- 2 tablespoons (25 mL) butter
- 1 cup (250 mL) smoked Arctic char, diced
- 4 tablespoons (65 mL) mayonnaise
- 1/2 red onion, minced
- 1/4 bunch each, tarragon, chives, chervil, chopped
- 1/2 orange, juice and zest
- 1 bulb fennel, shaved
- 1/2 lemon, juice and zest
- Pinch, sugar
- 1/2 daikon (also called lobok, a sweet Japanese radish), cut into thin matchsticks (julienne)

To garnish:

- 1 cup (250 mL) crème fraiche*
- Edible flowers
- Chive oil
- Salmon caviar

* To make crème fraiche, combine 1 cup (250 mL) of heavy 35-per-cent cream with 2 tablespoons (25 mL) sour cream in a glass container. Cover and stand at room temperature 24 hours, or until very thick. Stir well, cover and refrigerate. Keeps up to 7 days.

1. In a food processor, puree cilantro with lime juice and 1 cup (250 mL) of olive oil; set aside.

2. Scatter a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, with salt and pepper. Place the fresh fish fillet flesh-side up on the tray and season with salt; bake in preheated oven at 275 degrees F (140 degrees C) for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the fish becomes translucent; remove and brush well with a little olive oil, removing excess salt. Let cool slightly, then add butter and break up the fish with a fork, working the butter in at the same time.

3. Cool some more, then mix in diced smoked fish, mayonnaise, onion, chopped herbs, orange juice and zest. Refrigerate, covered, to chill.

4. In a stainless steel mixing bowl, drizzle fennel with lemon juice and zest, a few drops of olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

5. To serve, using 1/4 of the ingredients for each plate, form a ring with daikon julienne; place fennel in the centre; top with the fish mixture; drizzle coriander puree on the daikon and garnish the dish with crème fraiche, edible flowers, chive oil, and caviar. Serve by itself or with toasted brioche.

Benedictine Cheese Plate

Serves 4

- 2 Bartlett pears
- 1 shallot
- 1/2 clove garlic
- 4 slices brioche
- 8 ounces (225 g) Benedictine cheese
- 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
- 3 cups (750 mL) water
- 1 cup (250 mL) Cabernet Franc ice wine
- 1 cup (250 mL) balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 small nicoise lettuce (baby chicory, available at Byward Fruit Market)

1. Peel and core pears, cut in half and set aside. Mince shallot and garlic; set aside. Punch out rounds of brioche with a cookie cutter and toast them; set aside. Bring the cheese to room temperature.

2. In a stainless steel saucepan, add sugar to water, bring to boil. Add pears and ice wine; cover and simmer. When the pears are just tender (check with a thin knife), remove and reserve. Boil the poaching liquid to reduce volume by half; remove and reserve 1/4 cup (50 mL), then continue boiling the remaining liquid to reduce to 1 cup (250 mL); remove from heat.

3. In another small stainless steel saucepan, reduce balsamic vinegar to syrup consistency and set aside.

4. To the 1/4 cup (50 mL) of reserved partially reduced poaching liquid, add shallot, garlic, salt and pepper, to taste, and enough oil to make a vinaigrette. Toss the inside tender leaves of the lettuce with the vinaigrette.

5. To serve, place a brioche round in the centre of each plate. Shape cheese into two ovals for each plate and place on the brioche. Cut the half pear in half and slice each into a fan, place between the ovals of cheese. Top with lettuce; drizzle both syrups around the brioche.

Juniper-Crusted Roast Caribou Tenderloin

Serves 4 to 6

For the meat:

- 1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) red wine
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) soy sauce
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh ginger, grated
- 2 cloves garlic
- Juniper berries
- 2 caribou tenderloins, each about 4 ounces/115 g (may substitute venison or flank beef steak)
- Salt
- Peppercorns

For the compote:

- 1/4 red onion
- 2 tablespoons (25 mL) olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons (25 mL) brown sugar
- 2 cups (500 mL) partridge berries (available at Lapointe Fish Ltd. in the Byward Market)
- 2 tablespoons (25 mL) balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) white wine
- 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only

For the risotto:

- 1/2 Vidalia, or other large sweet onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 tablespoons (65 mL) butter
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil
- 1 cup (250 mL) pot barley
- 2 to 3 cups (500 to 750 mL) boiling chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons (25 mL) grated parmesan

- Fresh thyme leaves, to taste

For the mushrooms:

- 1/2 Vidalia, or other large sweet onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons (50 mL) butter
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil
- 1 pound (450 g) mixed wild mushrooms
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) dry white wine
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) chicken stock
- Salt, pepper, fresh thyme leaves, to taste

To garnish:

- Grilled green and white asparagus spears
- Chopped green onion
- Olive oil

1. To prepare the caribou: In a small glass casserole dish or in a resealable plastic freezer bag, combine 1/2 cup (125 mL) of olive oil, red wine, soy sauce, brown sugar, grated ginger, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 8 crushed juniper berries. Marinate tenderloins overnight, covered, in this mixture. Remove from marinade (discard marinade), season with salt, roll meat in a mixture of 3 parts freshly cracked pepper to 1 part coarse-ground juniper berries. Sear well in a skillet with a little oil, then finish in a 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) oven for 6 minutes, or until meat reaches desired doneness; rare is best. Set aside at room temperature to rest.

2. To make the compote: Mince red onion fine and sweat in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons (25 mL) of olive oil until translucent; add 1 clove minced garlic and 2 tablespoons (25 mL) brown sugar. Let ingredients melt, then add partridge berries and deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar and white wine. When berries release their liquid, remove from pan. Reduce liquid to a syrup, return berries and finish with finely chopped fresh thyme leaves.

3. For the risotto: Mince 1/2 Vidalia onion and 2 cloves garlic; sweat in 2 tablespoons (25 mL) of butter with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of olive oil. Add 1 cup (250 mL) of barley, stir well. Add boiling chicken stock, about 3/4 cup (175 mL) at a time, stirring constantly while liquid is absorbed, adding more hot stock as required until barley has absorbed enough stock to be al dente. When tender, add 2 more tablespoons (25 mL) of butter and 2 tablespoons (25 mL) of grated parmesan, and fresh thyme to taste. Cover and keep warm.

4. For the mushrooms: Mince 1/2 Vidalia onion and 3 cloves of garlic. Sauté onion in 1 tablespoon (15 mL) each of butter and oil; add mushrooms and garlic; cook on high heat until mushrooms lose their moisture. Add 1/4 cup (50 mL) each of dry white wine and chicken stock; reduce to glaze, season with salt, pepper and chopped thyme. Swirl in 2 tablespoons (25 mL) of butter.

5. To serve, fold mushrooms into risotto (reserve pan dripping from mushrooms for the final drizzle). Slice meat thin. Assemble attractively on plates and garnish with grilled green and white asparagus dressed with chopped green onions and olive oil.

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