In the Kitchen With: Marc Lepine, Atelier and THRU, Ottawa

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Liquid nitrogen, interactive QR codes and suspended glass orbs containing meticulously plated dishes are only a few of the unique features ultra-innovative chef Marc Lepine
highlights in his restaurants.

Known for his ingenuity in the kitchen, Lepine believes it’s simply not good enough for his food to taste good. According to the chef, each of his dishes is scrupulously critiqued until it meets his lofty standards of mouth-watering flavour and evocative visuals.

“I like to think outside the box, too, and try to figure how to present something people haven’t seen before,” says the 43-year-old Ottawa native. “Visuals are a big part of it — I want to create something fun; there’s nothing better than presenting something to a guest that makes them smile or want to take a picture.”

Lepine helms two of the top restaurants in Ottawa — Atelier, an upscale full-service restaurant with a 12-course tasting menu and THRU, a new concept featuring a 50-course tasting menu, which Lepine says is a fully interactive experience.

“The whole point with THRU is to be super interactive and modern so you’re using your cellphone to eat your way through dinner,” he says.

Interactive is an understatement. The on-table QR codes don’t simply tell you what the dish is or describe its many ingredients — they go a step further.

“Some are links to YouTube videos of us preparing the dish, some are phone calls with celebrity voices describing the dish. There are even trivia questions you can answer to get bonus courses,” Lepine explains.

The dining experience comes with its own app, allowing diners to download the information imparted throughout the meal.

To call Lepine’s techniques avant-garde would be doing the creative mastermind a disservice and yet, he says, while those words are kind, it’s not how he wants to be defined.

“I’m flattered when people say that, but I’m just doing what I want to do,” says Lepine.
Lepine’s list of accolades is almost as impressive as his advanced plating techniques. The chef is a two-time gold-medal winner of the Canadian Culinary Championships in 2012 and 2016 and was named Canada’s most innovative chef by Canada’s 100 Best in 2018.

And yet, with all these accomplishments under his belt, Lepine’s ascent to culinary acclaim was a stark contrast to his grandiose dishes.

“I kind of just fell into it,” he says. “I happened upon a part-time job in high school and somewhere along the way I fell in love with it and realized it’s all I could do — all I wanted to do.”

“A self-proclaimed modernist with a penchant for local produce and unique ingredients, he says his only culinary philosophy is that he doesn’t have one.

“I’m not a philosopher when it comes to food. When putting a new plate together, it has to taste incredible no matter what we do in a creative sense,” Lepine says.

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