The recent renovation and expansion of the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) includes a delicious new space called Jackson. Co-creators Caroline Gosselin and Chef John Leung, both veterans of the Ottawa restaurant industry, have collaborated to create a unique space and slate of food services at Jackson. Locals and visitors alike are sure to be tempted when the café and its catering services open for business in late April.
Caroline opened her first establishment, Restaurant E18hteen, in 2001 and soon hired John as executive chef, which helped propel the restaurant and both their careers to lofty heights. They have since worked together on numerous projects, including the recently-opened Rideau Sports Centre’s public eatery, the Clubhouse Restaurant.
Their latest project, Jackson, is named in honour of iconic Canadian landscape painter A. Y. Jackson, the only member of the Group of Seven to have a studio in Ottawa. The Firestone Collection, which is housed in the new OAG, includes 250 works by Jackson, so the naming is a most appropriate homage to the artist.
Given the stature of the Ottawa Art Gallery, the bidding process for the food services contract was a complex one. It included devising a menu based on paintings in the Firestone Collection; it was a challenge the chef was happy to embrace. As for Caroline, her interest in the OAG project stems from her longstanding passion for the artistic world. “I am a painter and I love the collaboration between art and restaurants. John and I both are very excited about getting inspiration from the gallery’s works.”
The food served at Jackson, and at events held in the gallery, promotes contemporary Canadian cuisine, presented in its most stylish yet accessible forms. The short menu of elegantly crafted smaller plates includes table snacks, dishes dubbed “light and bright” and “grilled and roasted” along with sides and desserts.
“The menu has a very global flavour profile and will change when the art changes, which is fun,” explains John. “Most plates have no more than six elements, with each component well thought out. Working with local and organic as much as possible, there are lots of plant-based dishes as well as gluten-free and vegan options and even a kids’ menu. Plus, our mixologist has come up with some fantastic craft cocktails as well.”
A grab-and-go counter in the café—offering fresh baked goods, sandwiches, specialty coffee, juices and smoothies—is sure to become a magnet for the downtown crowd, especially with the new boutique Le Germain Hotel next door and both the Rideau Centre and University of Ottawa nearby.
As for the design aesthetic, Jackson ties in beautifully with the rest of the gallery, blending with both the overall appearance and culture. The teak panelling, which was a prominent aspect of the original Firestone home, is echoed throughout the building, including in the café which also features soaring ceilings and clean, uncluttered lines. Plinths with acrylic boxes on top display A. Y. Jackson artifacts in an environment best described as Contemporary Minimalist. It is sleek and comfortable with some feminine touches for warmth, including cozy camel-coloured banquettes and bright pops of white and gold as accents.
The marriage of art and food at Jackson is intentionally designed to encourage conversation and sharing, notes Caroline. “Pulling together the right music, atmosphere, lighting and food so each aspect enhances the other is essential to creating the right ambiance. We are confident Jackson will prove to be a relaxed, joyous space and that eating here, just like visiting the Ottawa Art Gallery, will be a fun and rewarding experience.”