Our Executive Chef at the Lord Elgin Hotel is Brian Vallipuram. My first impression of Brian’s cooking happened on my very first day of co-op. Ann and I went to Grill 41 for lunch and sat at a booth with a fantastic view of Elgin Street and Confederation Park.
As an appetizer we were given bread and hummus. It was not as simple as it sounds however. It was by far the greatest hummus I have ever tasted in my life- and it was made by Chef Brian. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you come taste it during your next visit to downtown Ottawa.
Chef Brian loves to experiment and create unique flavors. He’s also always opened to adjusting certain meals as to match a guests want or need. Besides his fabulous skills in the kitchen, he is very funny. He always has a witty response to something someone says.
I was excited to ask Brian questions on how he obtained such talents, and other questions I was curious about.
-Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Sri Lanka. I grew up in Chavakachcheri which is in Northern Sri Lanka up until I was 15 years old.
-How old were you when you left home, and where did you go?
I was 17 when I left home. I first moved to Syria for a couple months and then moved to Italy to work.
-What inspired or influenced you to become a Chef?
Well, when we were immigrants in Europe, cooking is a job that is easily available. In Germany I worked in a very small restaurant where the Chef told me I had good taste. He then started teaching me authentic German cuisine and I have never looked back since. It was in 1987 when I joined Oliver’s Bistro that I learned to recognize Canadian tastes and demands.
-What is your favourite flavour or spice to use?
With my flavours, I like to mix them. Mainly I like to mix the Japanese and Indian spices. A Japanese soy sauce called kappa yokai and Indian spices like fennel, turmeric and coriander seeds.
-How many restaurants have you worked in?
Hmmm. I have cooked in almost every European city except the Scandinavian cities. I’ve cooked in Greece, Italy, France, Holland, Paris and Amsterdam. I have even worked on a cruise ship in Germany where I was a mess boy (sort of like a butler). I served to the ship’s Captain, Assistant Captain, civil engineer, etc. But, as far as restaurants specifically I have worked in five, and have owned and operated three.
-What is your favourite thing about working at The Lord Elgin?
I enjoy the daily challenges of customer needs, such as special requests or demanding guests. I am surrounded by so many different department heads that it always makes for an interesting day. It’s never boring.
-Can you tell me about your new YouTube videos you plan to start?
With the help of Jeremy, we want to have a series of YouTube videos for whenever we have a menu change, new menu items, or new crew members. We will do it in hopes of promoting Grill 41 and to show everyone what we’re doing.
-If you had to permanently live somewhere, besides Ottawa, where would it be?
I honestly wouldn’t trade to live anywhere else, I love Ottawa. I like the people here. There are some warm countries I would like to stay, but people are so friendly and family oriented in Ottawa. It’s getting big but it’s still little and comfortable.
-What is your fondest memory?
The first day I held my daughter Brianna is one of my fondest. I could never forget that day. (Fun Fact: Brianna’s name is Brian’s with “na” at the end)
-How old is your daughter now?
In June she will be six. Last night I took her to the Women’s World Junior hockey game and she very much liked that.
Where is your wife from?
I met my wife in Canada but she was born in Jamaica.
-If you had to choose your final meal, what would it include?
It would have to be authentic Sri Lankan food. Although I do also love classic French, Italian, and German foods, as long as it is authentic. But in the end, you have to go back to your mother roots.
-If you had to describe yourself with a food item, what would it be?
Well I always liked my steak, a USDA prime sirloin.
-If you could be any other person, who would you be?
I would like to be a Robert De Nero, he’s a VERY good actor! I also like Steve McQueen, but he has passed away.
Have you cooked for any famous people?
I have worked for a lot of fine dining restaurants which attracted some elite people. I met Steven Seagal when I was in Toronto. I met Prince, he came to my restaurant many times. Also David Hasselhoff. I have cooked for the Prime Minister. There have been some important people that have eaten my food.
-Any other comments?
Whatever you do, make sure you like what you do and you stick with it. Make sure you have a solid foundation. Without a foundation, you have no house.
Brian and I then ordered an egg white omelette and discussed how my phone bill is too expensive and the proper way for me to apply for a restaurant job when I move to Australia in July. Brian is incredibly easy to talk to and is a very genuine and caring person. I came to learn he raised $10,000 for Red Cross for the Tsunami Relief and has catered for many other charity events such as Toronto Child Abuse Centre and Heart and Stroke Foundation.
You’re a good man Charlie Brown.. I mean Brian Vallipuram.