Eating Your Science [Atelier Black Box Dinner]

Recently, I and a few of my fellow Ottawa bloggers had the outright pleasure of attending Atelier Ottawa’s Black Box Dinner. Before I go too far into the specifics of this particular evening, it’s necessary for me to tell you a bit about Atelier first. 

Every night, Atelier serves it’s guests, every single one of them, a 12-course gastronomic feast for the senses. I’ve yet to experience one of their regular services, and from what I hear, I’m nothing short of crazy for missing out on it. Chef Marc Lepine, owner and head chef, and his team take you on a tantalizing ride deep into the world of Molecular Gastronomy, which, in the most basic of explanations, is the application of science to culinary practices. Each plate thoughtfully, if beautifully, prepared and no sense left un-aroused, Chef Lepine knows just how to put on a dinner theatre that will leave you feeling satiated and filled with wonderment. 

Chef Lepine explains the evening to everyone with a big smile. I’m not sure if it’s a nervous smile, or a genuine one, but it’s a good smile none the less. 

Chef Lepine is currently preparing to head to Kelowa BC to compete in the Canadian Culinary Championships in February. In preparation, he put on a Black Box Dinner for whoever frantically got their reservation in before the 22-seat restaurant filled up. Thanks to a friend, we got the last table.


Now, what exactly is a Black Box Dinner, you’re wondering. Chef Lepine invited each table, 8 to be exact, to bring whatever ingredient they felt appropriate ( they were: kale, tapioca, mussels, yuca root, sticky syrup, crispy corn kernels, Chinese sausages, Earl Grey tea). The chefs would be unaware of ingredients until all guests were seated, at which point, the ingredients would be uncovered and the Atelier team of chefs would have to come up with a 4-course menu based around them. Now, I am no Jeffrey Steingarten and I don’t have the most refined palate (note: I eat Kraft Dinner with hot dogs every so often), but the dishes they created were nothing short of ingenious. Had I not known what was going on, I would have been pleased-as-pie, maybe even chocolate pie, to dig into the dishes provided. 

Claire, the wine blogger over at foodiePrints, provided the wine for the table. Doing so without any knowledge of what we would be eating was no doubt a daunting task, but as some of you know, Claire seems to rise to most challenges with the utmost grace and determination to make your already delicious meal even better with perfect pairings. And boy, she did not disappoint. Everything, from the Poema Cava to the ‘94 Hillebrand Late Harvest Vidal was spot.on. SPOT ON. So much so that kidnapping her and keeping her in my kitchen pantry for nightly pairing advice crossed my mind. Thankfully, more so for her, Claire offers pairings without my having to kidnap her. So it works out well for us both. 

All in all - this was a dinner I won’t soon forget. The food, the atmosphere, the company, the wine…. they all combined for the perfect experience. It helped that Chef Lepine and his team, including sommelier Steve Robinson who humoured our goofy antics all night, were gracious hosts and welcomed us into their home with open arms. 

Below are some photos of the dishes we enjoyed (many thanks to foodiePrints for providing me with their notes - I would have never remembered them all). My favourite was a toss up between the Elk dish and the Sturgeon tartar. Both were incredibly complex and left me wanting more. 

Colville Bay oysters served with mignonette gel (red wine vinegar, shallots, lemon, pepper) and horseradish foam 

sturgeon tartare (with crème fraîche, crispy shallots, lemon juice, and capers) served with radish, lemon rind and lotus root chip

roasted butternut squash soup with coriander seed, pine nuts, cocoa nibs, and roasted pineapple; served with a gingersnap cookie

sous vide elk tenderloin crusted in black truffle and trumpet mushrooms served on truffle pancake 

poached mussels, shrimp and lemon served with pickled ginger, chili dust, tapioca, kaffir lime infused coconut milk, dehydrated bacon, sesame powder; garnished with pea shoots

seared halibut (crusted with corn nuts) served with parsnip purée, kale chip, shrimp chip with togarashi, polenta chip; garnished with purple basil and mini tangerines

sous vide duck breast, served with Earl Grey jus, raw golden beet string (cut with a turning slicer), chestnut, roasted sweet potato purée, red beet sauce, yucca chips, Chinese sausage powder (frozen with liquid nitrogen and ground) 

tempura apple slice (Granny Smith) topped with eggless meringue (infused with Lyle’s Golden Syrup), and brown butter custard sphere; served with apple cider in white chocolate sphere, crumbled Pan di Spagna stale sponge cake, apple cider caramel, lemon balm and rosemary tapioca pearls

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