Seated in his downtown Carleton Place restaurant, Chef Ian Carswell mirrors the very characteristics of the food he creates – humble, unpretentious (and yes, with a wee touch of the Scots).
It’s been a busy year at Carswell’s intimate, 32-seat restaurant, the Black Tartan Kitchen. Besides winning Canada’s Great Kitchen Party’s regional competition in Ottawa in November 2019, the restaurant was also named Ottawa’s Favourite Restaurant and Carswell himself was named Ottawa’s Favourite Chef by FACES Magazine Ottawa Awards in January 2020.
In spite of all the media attention, Carswell appears unaffected. He says it’s been busy at the restaurant since The Great Kitchen Party competition, but then again, that’s pretty much been the case since the restaurant’s opening in 2017.
An instant favourite in the local restaurant scene, dining at the Black Tartan is like sitting down to rediscover your favourite comfort food, but with an interesting twist. The menu is both inspired and yet simple at the same time, a killer combination when it comes to the culinary world.
Since its opening, Carswell’s focus has been on using what’s available locally and transforming it into something extraordinary. “Basically we’re serving really rich, feel good food, with a local focus,” Carswell said. “A lot of the farms we source from are small scale producers, and we get to know them and their families. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
Although Carswell refers to his menu as “humble” and “just meat and potatoes” his dishes are far from “just” anything. In fact, Carswell even calls his winning dish at the Great Kitchen Party simply “lamb, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).”
“We wanted the dish to reflect who we are as a restaurant, which is a restaurant outside of the city focusing on local products and our Scottish roots. What we landed on was lamb with neeps and tatties, a humble Scottish pairing.”
This may sound like a modest dish, but for Carswell to compete and win against seven other well known Ottawa area chefs, it’s clear his dish was something special.
Carswell explained one of the reasons why he decided to establish his restaurant in Carleton Place was its proximity to so many farms in Lanark County. Carswell’s winning Scottish pairing was prepared using lamb and sheep’s milk sourced from Lanark County’s own Milkhouse Farm & Dairy and paired with wine from Kin Vineyard in Carp.
“The dish we served was our attempt to express our most cherished goals: to use local ingredients, to elevate traditional dishes and transform them into something unexpected, and to create an intimate and personal connection with our guests,” Carswell said. The full description of the dish is mouth-watering to say the least:
“We took the offal and combined it with trimmings, traditional haggis spices, and mushrooms and whipped it into a silky “Scott-ish” pâté, which we then coated with a gelée of neep and carrot juice and placed on a terrine made from the hind quarter. A lace tuile derived from roasted belly and lamb stock was included for its crisp yet delicate texture. The loin was cooked sous-vide and encrusted with a crumb of toasted buckwheat and ground tuile. A stock of bones and trimmings were reduced to a rich glace de viande while a Chantilly of aerated Tomme sheep’s milk rolled in rasped cheese provided a sharp, creamy contrast. Various notes of carrot, neep, caramelized onion and buckwheat sprouts accented the plate. The potato element of the traditional pairing has been integrated in the form of a pierogi filled with Tomme cheese and braised lamb shoulder, neck and foreshank.”
Humble, yes. Scottish roots, yes. But that’s where this dish’s “simple” tones end, and Carswell’s culinary skills take over.
From Valley Boy to Chef
Born and raised in the Ottawa Valley, Carswell wasn’t always planning on becoming a chef, and in fact, in his own words he kind of ‘fell into it.’ Carswell’s journey through the culinary world has taken him to Finland, Amsterdam, France, and back to Canada, where he’s been able to put everything he learned into practice.
“I started cooking because I really liked making people happy through food,” Carswell explained.
It was during a trip to Amsterdam that Carswell landed a job working at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and from there, he moved on to work for a vineyard in the Loire Valley in France where he learned winemaking from the ground up.
Next, he moved onto work at yet another Michelin-starred restaurant, two-star this time, at the world renowned Chez Dominique in Helsinki, Finland. On his return to Canada, Carswell worked at a few different locations in Ottawa, one of which was as sous chef at the National Art Gallery, where he spent five years working his way to up to executive chef.
For Carswell, food is his passion, and far more than just something you use to fill your belly. “Food is something that can bring people together and inspire memories, it’s something everybody can share and enjoy,” Carswell said.
Canada’s Great Kitchen Party 2020
Carswell is all set to compete at the 2020 Canadian Culinary Championships, a multi-day event held January 31 and February 1 in Ottawa. Carswell has been preparing for the event since he won in the regional competition in 2019, with support from family, friends, and fellow chefs who have all done their part in helping him get ready for the national event.
“It’s been on my mind since we won the regional competition…I’m excited but I’m also nervous at the same time,” Carswell said.
At the 2020 event, 12 competing chefs from 12 Canadian cities will be competing in three competitions over the two-day period. For more information about the competition visit www.greatkitchenparty.com.