After many years of living in Westboro, Le Cordon Bleu-trained Chef Andrée Riffou chose to move downtown and renovate a stately older home to accommodate both her family and C'est Bon Cooking, her culinary business, which offers gourmet food tours and hands-on cooking classes. She happily shared some kitchen design tips with Ottawa at Home as well as dishing on what she enjoys about living and working in the heart of Ottawa.
As someone who is passionate about food, what do you love about your new home and neighbourhood? We now enjoy more of a European lifestyle in that we walk everywhere and I am able to shop for fresh food every day at my favourite spots in and around the ByWard Market. I can also take my cooking classes there to learn about ingredients - it's a lot easier to be inspired by what's fresh. In terms of the house, we felt it was time to get rid of the excess in our lives, so moving to a smaller space forced us to do that. We've renovated to make it a comfortable home for us for decades to come.
Did you work with a designer to plan your new kitchen? We made an initial plan, then worked with a process expert to refine precisely how I was going to use the space. After that, Gerry Conlin of Dimension Cabinet & Millwork designed, built and installed the island and cupboards. Urban Quarry supplied the Cambria quartz countertop, which I love as it's durable and so beautiful. We also installed a high counter for plating that does double duty as a work area for tall people.
What did you have to do to make it work as a family space as well as your professional teaching kitchen? We designed it with space to store all the cooking school equipment so it stays out of sight and the kitchen can easily revert to family use. That was tricky because I have so many pots, bowls, utensils and more for the school, but we have spacious cupboards in the island for them. We also needed a six-burner gas stove, specialized venting, lots of extra, multi-level lighting and more electric circuits than usual for the induction cook plates used during classes.
How many people can cook comfortably in your kitchen at one time? We're able to easily accommodate eight cooks at one time and a few more for demonstrations. I like the classes to be warm and personal so everyone has a good view as we explore key elements of classic French cuisine and prepare dishes such as Basque-style chicken, ratatouille, brioche or puff pastry.
What are some of your favourite incorporated features? I have a pull-out rack where I can hang folded table linens. I also put butterfly-style pull-out shelves in the corner cupboards to maximize storage, as well as a pull-up shelf for my stand mixer so it doesn't have to be hoisted onto the countertop. I have a row of small drawers beside the stove to keep all my working tools accessible without cluttering up the counter space. On the other side of the stove I have two pull-out, easy-to-clean, wire-rack shelves for oils and vinegars.
Chef Andrée's Ratatouille
This is a classic French dish that is ideal for late summer's bounty. It serves eight and can easily be halved or doubled.
1/2 zucchini, diced
1/4 eggplant, diced
1/4 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/4 red bell pepper, diced
2 sprigs basil
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 red onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of sugar
Blanch the garlic in boiling water (to remove the bitter taste). Drain.
Separate the basil leaves from their stems, setting aside damaged leaves and stems. Refrigerate good leaves to use as garnish.
In a pot, add olive oil, basil stems, damaged leaves and simmer. Add garlic and infuse over low heat for 40 minutes.
Transfer garlic-infused olive oil to a large sauté pan, add red onion and let it sweat over low heat for a few minutes. Remove and set aside.
Repeat the same process with the red and yellow peppers, eggplant and zucchini. Season each vegetable with salt and pepper as you cook them.
Blanch tomatoes in boiling water and cool in ice water.
Peel tomatoes, cut in quarters, remove the seeds, dice and reserve.
Sauté tomatoes and add all reserved sautéed vegetables, plus sugar. Cook together for 20 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper and garnish with minced thyme and basil leaves.