Ottawa chef Marc Lepine used to be an avid cookbook reader.
“The last four or five I bought, I’ve been too busy — I haven’t had time to get into them. I’ve stopped buying them,” says the chef-owner of the award-winning restaurant Atelier on Rochester Street.
It’s hard to dispute Lepine’s priorities given that in 2012 and 2016 he was named the Canadian Culinary Champion on the strength of breathtaking dishes that, in each case months earlier, had won Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates competition.
And then there’s Atelier’s record and reputation for novel, hypermodern cuisine, which led to Lepine being named the country’s most innovative chef by Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants magazine.
Lepine, who lives in Gatineau with his family, has also been tied up for the past two years writing his own cookbook, simply titled Atelier, which went on sale this week.
The 248-page hardcover book, which retails for $49.50, begins with a few pages of biography and discussions of the restaurant’s origins and vision before offering step-by-step discussions of common Atelier techniques, such as working with liquid nitrogen and using a food printer. The bulk of the lavishly illustrated book is dedicated to 48 dishes — grouped in four 12-course tasting menus, as per Atelier’s nightly practice.
In the lightly edited conversation below, Lepine dishes the story behind his latest achievement.
Q: What made you want to write a cookbook?
A: The idea probably came about four or five years ago — all the plates we had produced. It entered the back of mind that some day we should probably do it. We actually started working on it about two years ago.
We’re just coming up on our 10-year anniversary at the restaurant. Basically, we just wanted to share with as many people as we could the what we’ve been doing here.
Q: Who is the book meant for?
A: I would say it’s geared mostly to people in the industry or with a strong interest in food. For people at home, I don’t expect they would want to reproduce a dish in its entirety. I mean, the way I prefer to use cookbooks, I like the sub-recipes. Just a preparation for a single ingredient. Hopefully those things in the book are going to spark people’s own creativity.
Q: Are you worried that other chefs might imitate your recipes now that they’re in print?
A: I’ve never really minded anyone copying anything we do. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I think it’s great when people reproduce things that we’ve done here. I see it as the highest form of flattery. We have a big carrot hoop that got reproduced by a lot of people. I shared the recipe and process for that on Instagram once and got all kinds of responses from people from around of the world.
Also, we’re always on to something new. Just constantly. So, by the time people are reproducing something that we’ve already done, we’re more excited about something else.
Q: Are any of the dishes in the book still served at Atelier?
A: Not a single one. That’s just the way things are here. But we might produce some of those dishes for events related to the cookbook, I imagine.
Having said that, they are all plates that we loved when we did them and they were really fun to make again.
Q: Did you enjoy writing the book?
A: I enjoyed most of it. It was a lot of work. And there were some days just slitting at a desk at a computer, going over proofreader’s notes, that type of stuff is not the most enjoyable. I like to work on my feet, so sitting at a desk for too long makes me go a little crazy. But overall, it was a great experience.
Q: Do you think you have another cookbook in you?
A: I really have no idea. I would like to write a book on dehydrators, though. I always have a ton to say about those. Just dehydrators. I think they’re the most under-utilized piece of equipment in professional kitchens. And every time somebody gets me talking about them, I find myself going on forever.
Q: So not Marc Lepine’s Six-Ingredient Dishes or Marc Lepine’s Easy Italian?
A: (Laughs) No, I don’t see myself doing that.
Atelier cookbook dinner and book signing
Where: Atelier, 540 Rochester St.
When: Oct. 18, 6:30 p.m.
Cost: $185, covering food and wine and signed cookbook, for Visa Infinite and Visa Infinite Privilege cardholders only.
Atelier Cookbook book launch and signing
Where: Library and Archives Canada, Pellan Room, second floor
When: Oct. 20, 4 p.m. (door 3:30 p.m.)