4 min

Cuisine for the cause

A taste of three local eateries participating in this year's Taste for Life fundraiser

Oz Kafé Credit: Ben Welland

This year marks the 15th anniversary of A Taste for Life — a homegrown fundraiser for HIV/AIDS service organizations Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation. It began in Ottawa in 1999, but the event has since taken place in 23 communities across Canada. The concept is brilliant in its simplicity: choose a participating restaurant where you would like to eat with a group of friends on the evening of April 24, and that restaurant will donate 25 percent of your bill to A Taste for Life. Additional cash donations are also welcome. All proceeds go to local HIV/AIDS organizations. Here is a preview of some of Ottawa’s participating restaurants for 2013.

Oz Kafé

Oz Kafé has become a mainstay of adventure cuisine in the Capital. Ottawa Magazine describes the food as “simple, fresh and unpretentious, but also a little bit bad-ass and freakin’ delicious.” Boasting such dishes as wild boar spareribs, yak tataki and a poutine of scalloped potatoes, caramelized onions, apple, smoked duck and Balderson old cheddar, the menu is as eclectic as it is delicious.

The owner, Oz Balpinar, has involved her restaurant in A Taste for Life for six years now. To her, it’s a no-brainer. “It’s a wonderful fundraiser,” she says. “It’s a great way to raise money but also raise awareness about the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation and Bruce House, which are both invaluable organizations that do amazing day-to-day work with people who are living with AIDS.”

Balpinar adds that the fundraiser brings a lot to her restaurant and the broader community. “It’s all about community. There are a lot of great restaurants involved, and it’s a great idea to take a percentage of the proceeds for one night and donate it to worthwhile organizations that do amazing work. There are things we don’t think about on a day-to-basis that people have to cope with — whether it’s affording medication or bus tickets or having a place to live with dignity.”

In terms of her time and money, Balpinar says such fundraisers are well worth the investment.

“We do a lot of community things, like donating gift cards to the public school down the street. I don’t have any advertising budget — I’d much rather spend that money on things like this.”

Oz Kafé
361 Elgin St

Absinthe Café

Absinthe is a delightful place. It offers up a menu of relaxed and playful contemporary cuisine, which can be paired with a variety of absinthes and absinthe-based cocktails. If you’re wondering: yes, it’s legal, and the spirits are made from the real ingredients. Be sure to check out the restaurant’s lauded steak frites, or, if you’re looking for variety, indulge in the three-course table d’hôte. Ottawa Life magazine says Absinthe “definitely lives up to the hype.”

General manager Thomas McVeigh says Absinthe’s involvement in A Taste for Life is as old as the restaurant. “[Chef-owner Patrick Garland] has been involved since he opened the restaurant,” McVeigh says. “Almost from the very start of A Taste for Life. It’s always a really fun night, usually a lot more groups coming out to celebrate together — a lot of tables of six and eight and 10. It has a nice dynamic to it. We sell out every year. People are quite generous, and I know the volunteers who come out for it usually get a fair amount in the [donation] envelopes, as well.”

He says the event always makes him think back to the early days of HIV and the people he’s lost.

“I’m old enough that I lost quite a few friends right at the start of HIV — back when it was still quite grim,” he says. “I worked in a gay bar back in the late ’80s. HIV has been part of my whole adult life.”

McVeigh encourages everyone to come out and support this important community fundraiser.

1208 Wellington St W

Social Restaurant & Lounge

Social is best described as a food-and-sound fusion experience. The restaurant-lounge specializes in what it calls Canadian freestyle cuisine — its menu blends Canadian and French favourites with inventive twists like shallot jam, truffled chicken salad and coriander-and-star-anise-dusted calamari. Social’s ample wine selections and fun cocktails mix well with the sounds of the guest DJs, who help pull together a relaxed atmosphere that comes off as elegant and inviting.

Jordan Holley, head chef at Social, says the restaurant has been involved in A Taste for Life for five years. “I think it’s fantastic,” he says. “You see a lot of people come out. It’s one of our busier nights, for sure. This is my fourth year being involved at Social, and I did it at another restaurant I was at the year before that. It brings a lot of people in who are well aware of what’s going on and are supporting their community.”

He says it’s great to see fundraising dollars being invested back into the National Capital Region. “Supporting the people affected in the community is always a good thing,” he says. “I see people donating money to all kinds of organizations abroad, but it’s good to see it staying here for our own people in our community. Bruce House is a great organization, and we’re proud to support them with the donations we make.”

Holley says the atmosphere is especially fun and vibrant during A Taste for Life. “People are out to have a good time and show their support. We usually have a DJ playing music, too.”

Social Restaurant &  Lounge
537 Sussex Dr