Jon Svazas, owner/operator of Fauna and Bar Laurel in Ottawa, says becoming a chef, while not accidental, was not his first career choice. After graduating high school, he attended Ryerson University, where he studied urban planning.
“I had completed two years of the program when I realized I was not a ‘desk job’ kind of person,” says Svazas. “I decided to try construction, which brought me to Ottawa, and soon I found I didn’t like that either.”
Knowing how much he enjoyed cooking, Svazas’ sister suggested he train to be a chef and in 2004, he enrolled in Algonquin College’s School of Hospitality and Tourism. After a year in the program, he began working at the ByWard Market Vittoria Trattoria, before moving to Domus Café where he worked with chef John Taylor — a trailblazer in Canada’s farm-to-table movement. Taylor instilled in him an appreciation for local ingredients and flavours.
“I learned a lot [from Taylor] about local ingredients and their flavours; local proteins and developing relationships with the farmers and foragers who brought all those incredible things to us to work with,” says Svazas.
Fauna, which Svazas opened in 2014, focuses on small plates showcasing nouveau-Canadian cuisine honouring Canada’s multiculturalism, while using local ingredients. Dishes include elk carpaccio with sour gherkins, nori mayo, parmesan, fermented nectarine, mushroom salt and potato crackers ($19) and Pacific Black Cod with parmesan broth, Udon noodles, calamansi foam, poached shiitake, carrots, cherry tomatoes, sea asparagus and turnip ($36).
“I would describe my cooking philosophy as traditional flavour combinations with a modern twist,” he says.
With Fauna firmly established, Svazas opened Bar Laurel — highlighting his love of Spain’s tapas culture — in 2016. Named after Calle del Laurel in Logrono, in the Rioja region of Spain, Bar Laurel’s menu gives diners an authentic taste of Spanish flavours, with many of the ingredients used — such as Spanish razor clams; the Secreto Ibérico, a prized cut of meat from the shoulder of an Iberian pig; and Bellota dí Ibérico, an acorn-fed Pata Negra ham — imported from Spain.
“My wife (Kate) and I have gone to Spain several times and have fallen in love with the way the Spanish eat, the tapas scene and the wine,” Svazas says. “Bar Laurel offers a traditional take on Spanish food.”
Other dishes include Aceitunas, fire-roasted olives with rosemary, lemon and olive oil ($9); Sobrasada Montadito made with Iberian Sobrasada, razor clam, guindilla and a baguette ($8); and plates of merguez — a beef and lamb sausage with squash purée, raisins and herb salad ($30).
While Svazas likes to work with local farmers and growers, he notes that “Sadly, there is no Canadian equivalent of some of herbs we use. I wish we could produce a product like the Secreto here in Canada or the Bellota dí Ibérico,” he says.