Pastries and Poetry

Attentive patrons, 544 Rideau
Attentive patrons, 544 Rideau

I had to find a way to bring in money and new customers, so I decided to open the place up as a little bistro in the evening offering very eclectic cuisine, mainly French but also Italian, Japanese, and even Indonesian.  My future brother-in-law, Alan Knight, who was sixteen and already at Carleton University, became my sous-chef.  Every day I was at the marketplace choosing meats, fish, and vegetables for the evening meal.  It seemed to work, and we had a steady clientele.  They loved the food, the prices, and the fact that I never queried them about the contents of the brown bag they brought along.

We also set up a few tables on the balcony overlooking Rideau Street.  It was probably the first café terrasse in Ottawa at that time.  I recall one particular evening when Carlos, with a beautiful date (as always), came rushing into the kitchen proclaiming that he'd just been server the best salmon he had ever eaten.  I had made a pretty good salmon teriyaki, but I suspect the contents of his brown bag had greatly enhanced the flavour.

Another turn of events helped with summer revenue.  CJOH TV featured a local chef weekly on its early evening program.  For some reason they invited me.  I still to this day have no idea why they did so. Maybe it was for a bit of comic relief.  Alan, as sous-chef, insisted on being there even though they told me I was the only one to be interviewed.  So we each washed our two white aprons (purchased at C.A. Paradis) three times and with lots of bleach so that they would look as professional as possible.  The dish we chose was Hati Bumbu Bali, a highly spiced Indonesian dish.  The choice was inspired by Alan’s brother-in-law, who was Indonesian. In those days, there weren’t any Indonesian restaurants in Ottawa.

Looking back, the dish we chose was probably not a wise choice since liver is not everybody’s favourite.  The interview went well, and I talked abundantly about Le Hibou.  Alan, markedly tall for his age, stood silently in the back, mute as a telephone pole.  Then came the cruncher:  "Could you finish the dish—we have only one minute left."  I had prepared very little by then (perhaps I should have talked less) and it was a mad scramble for Alan and I to complete a half presentable dish.  Nevertheless, as a result of this interview, we had many new members and diners, although nobody asked for the Hati Bumbu Bali.

Despite a strong membership, Le Hibou could not live on people, pastries, and poetry alone. We needed a larger place, with paid entertainment on the weekends. What's more, I was receiving not-so-subtle hints from Dr. Dupont, the landlord, that maybe it was a good idea to start looking for another venue, a venue in a commercial district perhaps. I quite agreed. So the search was on to locate a place, preferably in Centretown, close to the two universities and colleges.

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