Lepine has a fascination with doing things differently.
As a young chef, through kitchen jobs in Toronto, Muskoka, Italy and France, and then seven years at Courtyard Restaurant in Ottawa, he was increasingly drawn to the emerging scientific approach to cooking, its wonders and efficiencies, and to its international chef proponents.
A 2007 stage at Grant Achatz’s Alinea irrevocably fixed the direction of his cuisine, and he opened the 22-seat Atelier (in a bannerless house on a street of no particular distinction) a year later. What the little house did have was space for a big back garden and a side alley for the liquid nitrogen tank.
Lepine’s approach to his tasting menu is team-based, contemporary and artistic. And, also, mercifully playful. He is something of a mischief-maker, taking impish delight in both the “How the hell did you do that?” reaction to a dish and in hosting weird and wacky events—a tribute dinner to Motörhead, say, or the time he took his tasting menu on the road, popping up in 12 secret spots for “Where’s Atelier?” evenings. What other fine dining restaurant does a home-delivery night, its tasting menu reproduced in paper bags? Or plates eel as a little torchon, wrapped in chicken skin, or positions octopus (with matcha-dusted puffed rice and caviar pearls of liquid Caesar) in the glass belly of a suspended terrarium, or creates Popeye candy sticks for spinach sponge cakes? Dishes are designed to surprise and delight, to start conversations and leave impressions. You don’t come to Atelier on a first date: it’s the plate you’ll want to lock eyes on. — ANNE DESBRISAY