Aboriginal Bistro was officially opened on November 15,
2003. Operated and owned by chefs Warren and Phoebe Sutherland,
this story began several years earlier.
Phoebe Sutherland, (maiden name: Blacksmith) is a Cree
who was born and raised in Mistissini Lake located on Quebec’s
James Bay. Cooking by age ten, she started on a path that
has come to fruition on the form of Sweetgrass Aboriginal
As Phoebe was growing up, she moved frequently attending
many different schools during elementary and high school.
Finally, she ended up in Ottawa, taking Algonquin College’s
Hotel and Restaurant Management program. While at Algonquin,
the concept for an aboriginal restaurant was birthed through
an assigned project. The present Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro
greatly resembles what Phoebe envisioned in that project,
including exposure of native art, artifacts on display,
native music playing in the background… even the contents
of the menus! After graduating, she was employed in the
fine dining establishment at the Department of Foreign Affairs,
serving diplomats and various government officials (including
the likes of Jean Chrétien!).
Shortly after graduating from Algonquin, Phoebe began
a search for culinary schools, wanting to satiate a growing
desire to increase her skills and come out with a degree
to add to her diploma. As this option wasn’t offered
in Canada, Phoebe headed for the U.S. She decided on going
to the New England Culinary Institute (NECI), attracted
to their motto: “Learn by Doing.” This hands
on approach was exactly what she was looking for. The Institute
offered two internships, allowing Phoebe to travel and gain
experience. Her first internship was with the four star
French establishment named Hammersly’s Bistro where
she got to work with award winning chef, Hammersly himself.
Second internship was in North East Harbour, Maine with
Asticou Inn – established originally in 1883 and reopened
after a ravaging fire, in 1901.
at NECI, Phoebe did not only hone in her culinary skills
– she also discovered a new relationship. Phoebe met
a dashing Warren Sutherland also studying in the culinary
arts. Born and raised in Jamaica, Warren headed for the
United States at the bright young age of 17 to study Electrical
Engineering at Michigan State University. Although doing
well at university, it was not where his real passion presided.
At times in class (while paying attention to the lecture,
of course) Warren would create recipes and write them in
his note book. One day a fellow university student pointed
out to him that most people read recipes out of already
printed cook books and that it was not everyone who could
create recipes out of thin air. Warren has been cooking
for as long as he can remember. It seems the ability was
innate as he cannot recall specifically being taught to
Once this fact hit, Warren left Michigan for Vermont to
feed his passion for all things food. He arrived at NECI,
also, like Phoebe, attracted by their schools “hands
on” approach. Unbeknownst to him, a second passion,
(Phoebe), awaited him. To gain experience in the culinary
field, Warren worked as a stagier (for free) at Abigails
on Broadway – a place which serves Kosher cuisine.
He also was stagier at Chanterells where he absorbed much
with regards to fine dining. However, he eventually had
to leave because experience alone will not pay the bills.
Warren then began an internship with the strictly vegetarian
restaurant, Post and Beam Café where he worked as
sous chef, learning the endless possibilities of creativity
in vegetarian fare.
As Phoebe and Warren’s knowledge of the culinary
arts grew, so did their love for each other. After graduating
from the New England Culinary Institute, Phoebe and Warren
migrated together to Phoenix, Arizona hoping for a closer
look at South Western native cuisine. Phoebe was hired at
Roxsand’s where she gained experience in many aspects
of cooking, including the art of desserts. Warren worked
at Tarbells, where high profile, award winning chef/owner
Mark Tarbell runs a highly acclaimed fine dining restaurant.
In the summer of 2002, Phoebe returned to Ottawa at long
last, with fiancé Warren Sutherland. Phoebe worked
at Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar while Warren worked on
developing the business plan for their present restaurant.
Amidst moving, starting a new job, planning a future venture
Phoebe and Warren got married. Less than a year later, their
restaurant opened its doors to the public on November 15,
2003. Phoebe and Warren now work side by side as chef/owners
of Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro.
About The Bistro
Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro, Ottawa’s first aboriginal
cuisine, opened its doors to the public on November 15,
2003. Located in the capital’s unique Byward Market,
what better place could this Bistro find to call home?
Come in and experience seasonal lunch and dinner menus
that follow the ancient paths of North America’s
Aboriginal peoples! Sweetgrass has a warm atmosphere created
by the care put into each plate that is made, to the meaningful
decor, to the personal touches the owners put into each
step of renovation.
It is important to the chefs/owners of this comfortable Bistro
to keep with tradition. This is evidenced in many ways. Just
as natives ate whatever the land proffered each season, the
menus reflects this by also changing seasonally. Apart from
the menus being distinctive in what is offered, much attention
is also paid to doing everything in house - including breads,
sauces, dressings and desserts. The combination of the seasonal
menus, care put into making tantalizing aboriginal courses
and house made food keeps the menu original, fresh and delicious
– the way eating out should be.
Sweetgrass’ Aboriginal Bistro, aboriginal owned
and operated, is more than just casual fine dining. It
is a destination place to discover aboriginal traditions
and artistic expressions. If you have a fascination with
all things native, this restaurant will satisfy more than
just your belly. While you eat to the beat of drums, patrons
have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with native
art. The walls tell stories through artists such as Doug
Kakekagumick, John Tenasco, Marion, Beam and R. Bedwash.
There is also opportunity to browse through a collection
of native jewelry made of the likes of turquoise, silver,
bone, and hide, among other materials. Following dining
at Sweetgrass it would seem some wish the experience wouldn’t
end. Such people are in luck as much of the art and jewelry
is for sale, as well as other items.
Upon stepping across the threshold of Sweetgrass, patrons
are greeted with a tranquil ambience. The interior décor
of the restaurant was the product of Phoebe’s imagination,
with the help of her family. While renovating, days upon days
were spent by the chefs/owners painting the walls, sanding
the floors, installing the kitchen and the like. When Phoebe
was choosing the colours for the interior, she went for natural
tones in the hopes of creating a relaxing atmosphere akin
to nature. Much of the decorations on display either belong
to Phoebe’s family or were personal gifts given by family
members and friends. This personal strain continues through
the food. Many of the recipes are developed in house, while others are recipes that were passed on from
their parents and grandparents. Sweetgrass is a smaller establishment
with an open concept kitchen. We hope upon arrival that guests
will feel welcome and at ease. We look forward to your visit
with us. Please note, as we are smaller, when possible it
is recommended that you call ahead or email a request for