Everyone knows that the best parties always end up in the kitchen. Meet William Arnaud and François Drolet, the chef/owners of Otter Creek Catering in Kingston, Ontario.
WILLIAM ARNAUD & FRANÇOIS DROLET
OTTER CREEK CATERING
What’s your favorite seasonal ingredient?
François: Corn. We had a lot of fun with local corn this year on the food truck. As soon as local corn came in season, we were able to introduce it basically everywhere – so salads, Buddha Bowls, and we did our riff on street corn. We did Wilton feta and cremas on the street corn. As soon as we had grilled local corn on our dishes, I found it was just the taste of summer.
Will: Peaches. Nothing beats an Ontario Peach in peak season. No matter how much I crave, I refuse to eat peaches any other time of the year, I already know I’ll be disappointed by them.
What in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient?
Will: Brussels Sprouts. It is hard to say if they’re underrated or people just don’t know how to cook them properly. When done well they are fantastic! Growing up, the few times that I had Brussels sprouts I just couldn’t enjoy them. But, when you actually cook them properly and they’re soft in the middle but not mushy, and nicely roasted on the outside – maybe with some maple syrup and some bacon fat, they’re delicious. I like to fry them mostly because when you can deep fry them and get a really nice crispy outside, they’re really good. I don’t even know if saying they’re underrated is the right way to put it, they’re just miscast – in my experience too many people do it wrong.
François: Brussels sprouts are great cooked but he [Will] does a really nice Brussels sprouts slaw. We did a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, with a fried turkey cutlet and the Brussels sprout slaw that had our bacon, carrots, shaved Brussels sprouts, and maple Dijon aioli. Raw Brussels sprouts have a really nice flavor behind them as well, you just have to shave them down.
I think that salad greens are underrated. Everyone thinks about salad greens, and then thinks about the box of spring mix you get from the store, but there are some great greens available to us. Whether you’re dealing with Burt’s Greenhouses in Odessa, or Patchwork Farms just north of Kingston, the quality of the greens is great. The variety changes based on the season. So early on in the season, it’s the earlier greens, and as the season progresses you get some of the other options like mustard greens, herbs, sorrel, chervil, whatever it may be. Using local greens carries a lot.
What is your favorite dish to cook at home?
Both: Spaghetti Bolognese.
Will: Growing up, both my parents could make spaghetti bolognese really well, so it’s what I grew up eating literally 3 or 4 times a week. I love it and will never get bored of it.
François: It’s quick and easy if you’re going to use dry pasta. I keep my dad’s bolognese sauce in the freezer, I grew up on that and I remember people asking me what I want for my birthday and I’m like spaghetti and my dad’s tomato sauce.
Will: And you know what? It’s always better as leftovers, so you always make way too much because somehow, it’s just always better the second time around. Its simplicity makes it perfect for at home.
What’s your drink of choice?
Will: A simple, well-made Old Fashioned. Or a crisp refreshing beer on a patio in the summer. I really like MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co., which is just west of Kingston. I like their Crosscut Beer or their Harvest Ale, those are probably my two favorite ones. Spearhead Brewing here in town has also got a bunch of different beers that are just delicious.
Outside of your chef life how would you describe yourself?
François: I’m a family guy. Right now, just trying to experience everything through my daughter’s eyes has been really one of the things that I try to do a lot. We got out in the garden yesterday, and she was pulling out all of these little tags from the flowers, which was amazing to her. Spending time with her has given me a lot of perspective and it grounds me. Aside from that I just try to support my wife as much as I can because when we’re working a lot she’s taking point on running our family, and gives me a lot of support, and I try to make sure that I return the same when I’m able to.
Will: Pretty quiet I would say. I enjoy being outdoors and have been trying to get out foraging as much as I can in my spare time. Through the winter I spend most of my free time playing hockey on the outdoor rinks or out on the hills snowboarding.
What’s the most enjoyable part of operating a food truck?
Both: The freedom to take your kitchen with you. I think it is a pretty amazing thing to have the ability to pull into someone’s backyard or out to their farm, it allows us to bring a different experience to the guest.
Will, you received a civic award last year. Can you speak about social causes that are important to you?
Will: Receiving the civic award for my work with Lionhearts Inc. was a proud moment for me, but I recognize that I am part of a greater team that has come together to help our community. At the forefront of social causes is raising the awareness of food insecurity, both in my community and in the world at large. It is an issue that affects so many people and yet it feels like it is often brushed away by the general public as a non-issue or “not my problem”. With COVID-19 we saw the problem of food insecurity begin affecting greater sectors of the population, it was no longer just a ‘homeless’ problem. A large portion of the people who utilize our service are seniors or single-parent families who have been affected by job loss in the pandemic. The other big one for me is raising awareness on the issue of Food Waste. Lionhearts prior to COVID-19, was primarily a food rescue agency, recovering food from businesses that would have otherwise thrown it away, and redistributing it to our many community partners. With our meals to go program, we began utilizing the recovered food to make our meals with, as well as sorting through the unusable food and providing it to several pig farmers in the area as feed. This greatly minimized our overall waste and again helped contribute to our community.
What to you is the best part of working with Ontario food and drink?
Both: It is getting to know the people who supply our food. We tend to know them all by name and have built relationships with them over the years. We think those relationships show in the way we cook, there is a greater sense of pride knowing that you get to showcase not only your own skills but the quality products of people you know. To be able to showcase and speak proudly about something that a local farmer has been able to put together makes us feel really good about the food that we’re serving.
Why is Feast On important to you and your restaurant?
Both: Feast On provides a voice on a greater platform to showcase the amazing products and people we get to work with. Raising awareness and being an advocate for Ontario products is at the forefront of what we want to do as chefs and as a small business, so partnering with Feast On just makes sense.
What does your ‘Perfect Weekend’ in Kingston look like?
François: I’ve got a little one. She’s just coming up on two years here this summer, so my weekends are filled with trying to create experiences with her. I’m going to the Farmers Market, getting everything, and then we go on to have fun at home with that.
Will: On Saturday I would start with breakfast and a coffee at Northside Espresso + Kitchen, then enjoy a walk along the water at Lake Ontario Park. Spend the afternoon strolling the downtown shops. Dinner and late-night cocktails at The Everly Restaurant & Lounge.
Sunday looks like brunch at Toast and Jam, followed by a hike around Lemoine Point Conservation Area. Then, I’d enjoy some patio beers and live music at Spearhead Brewery. Sunday dinner and wine at Olivea.