The Accidental Chef

Lessons Learned In and Out of the Kitchen
by Caroline Ishii

$21.95 Available in the museum shop.

accidental chefIn this funny, frank, and tender memoir, much-loved Ottawa chef Caroline Ishii recounts how she opened the first vegan fine dining restaurant in Canada – and then, eventually, left it.

Born in Toronto to Japanese parents, Caroline learns early to love humble food like daikon pickles and rich mushrooms. So when she decides years later to become a chef, a career switch that is part naïve and part completely inspired, it is early food memories that she mines for encouragement. What unfolds is unexpected and inspiring.

Caroline holds vegan pop-up dinners that land an internationally syndicated documentary-reality television show, The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave, and garner wide support for her restaurant-to-be, ZenKitchen. Together with her community, she raises funds, guts and renovates a space in Ottawa’s Chinatown, develops a menu, hires staff, passes inspections, and dodges cameras throughout it all.

Part cookbook, part biography, part industry tell-all, each vignette in this memoir is framed as a food memory and accompanied by a recipe for simple, delicious, mostly plant-based fare.

The Accidental Chef is a moving and honest account of one woman growing up and into herself. A series of short, compelling narratives traverse Canadian geographies (Vancouver Island, Toronto, Ottawa) as well as international locales from Caroline’s yoga and food experiences: San Francisco, New York, and Massachusetts, her extensive travels in Japan, and her time spent as a relief worker in Russia and the Ukraine.

This is a cosmopolitan story of the way that food defines memories, losses, accomplishments, and sense of self. Ishii’s position as a Japanese-Canadian woman frames The Accidental Chef and lends freshness and insight to personal reflections on childhood, family life, education, entrepreneurship, and, of course, food culture.