It began, fittingly, over dinner.
An effort to impress and a love of food have blended into not only a marriage, but a wildly successful food blog served up by an Ottawa couple who write about food, check out farmers’ markets, review restaurants and cook.
Kitchissippi residents Don Chow and Jennifer Lim are the authors behind foodiePrints, a popular blog of more than eight years, and a book, Ottawa Food – A Hungry Capital, published by The History Press in 2014. For Don, an IT professional at Environment Canada, it really is all about food. Not only does he enjoy checking out the latest hot spot, he’s into the whole process from the ground up, regularly searching out local markets, talking to farmers and producers, and meeting chefs.
Don started the blog that, in its early days, mainly featured recipes and pictures of food. “My mother taught both my sisters and I how to cook,” he says. “She said she wanted her son to be able to cook as well as her daughters.” It was a life skill that has served him well but he admits he got somewhat nervous when he started dating Jennifer. “I wanted to impress her,” he says. “I started experimenting with recipes, going out to different restaurants and ethnic markets and buying better produce.”
It was a pleasant surprise for Jennifer. “I didn’t think he could cook.” But that’s all changed. Soon, Jennifer was not only enjoying Don’s cooking, she was joining him in the blogosphere. Three years ago they married and today Jennifer is equally immersed in foodiePrints. The Grade 1-2 teacher readily tackles the “job” of reviewing restaurants and testing recipes. While the couple calls it a hobby, it tends to be a fairly demanding one, considering they both work full-time. But their thousands of loyal followers certainly appreciate what they dish.
The popular blog is never far from their thoughts. Its entries include grocery store visits seeking exotic ingredients, a four-season trek to discover the city’s offerings, and the latest scoop on local food events such as Bon Appetit Ottawa. Recipes—such as butter chickpeas, dumpling stuffed chicken wings and savoury cauliflower custard tarts—are easy to follow and include step-by-step photos.
As for getting the word out about what’s happening in the restaurant scene, Don stresses that reviews are not meant to criticize. “We’re not going in to complain,” he says, noting they are open about who they and what they are doing. “We got rid of our anonymity. We want to share what Ottawa has to offer, share the enjoyment we have found here.”
Consider this: 24 restaurants opened in Ottawa in 2014. Entrepreneurs are desperately trying to provide a good experience, Don points out, so competition is fierce. And if they act on a you-must-eat-here suggestion, they go in with an open mind. “You hear about a great place and if it falls short of expectation it isn’t fair to judge on one visit, Jennifer explains. “There could be many factors involved, so we go for three visits.”
They are not afraid to share their delicious finds, whether it’s a five-course meal at MeNa on Preston or a banana stack at Flapjack’s Pancake Shack. They admit they miss the artisan bread faithfully turned out by Art-Is-In Bakery when they are out of town.
Ottawa is lucky to have a great number of small, locally-owned, chef-driven restaurants, adds Don, a far cry from the scene 30 years ago. They discovered this after many nights and weekends at the Ottawa Public Library and the City of Ottawa Archives Reference Room while investigating Ottawa’s food scene from the 1980s onward. Their research was in response to an email query from The History Press, asking if the bloggers were interested in writing a book about the Ottawa scene and how it has changed.
“I thought it was spam at first and ignored it for quite some time,” Jennifer says. After some initial digging, the couple realized the offer was legitimate, and they hunkered down with a tight timeline. Research revealed the scene underwent an explosion of options with the changes in immigration. It began with the Vietnamese who sought refuge in Ottawa and who introduced a new line of options, including pungent spices and bountiful use of vegetables. Next came a large concentration of Lebanese immigrants. Who would have thought Ottawa would become “the unofficial shawarma capital of Canada,” says Jennifer.
While the bevy of restaurants pulls the Kitchissippi couple out to the downtown core (and around the corner), they do also enjoy cooking together. And yes, friends covet a dinner invitation to their home but tend to be a bit timid about returning the favour. “But we don’t judge,” Don insists. “We appreciate a home-cooked meal.”
After all, “we love food.”