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.
Written by Aaron Shaw
Phoebe Taste Testing"Sweet" is in the name, but
Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro is definitely about the savoury
too. Billing itself as Ottawa's first and only restaurant
featuring First Nations cuisine, it's the inspiration of chefs
and owners Phoebe Sutherland and her husband Warren. The two
honed their skills at the New England Culinary Institute and
took over the locale of dessert purveyor Oh So Good on Murray
The chefs worked for a time in Arizona, and that influence
is reflected in the chipotle glazed salmon and Pueblo grilled
smoked pork chop.
There is something about the opening of a new restaurant
that fascinates and knowing that there are only two of these
types of restaurant in Canada adds to that mystery.
The Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro, located at 108 Murray Street
in Ottawa opened its doors at 5.30 pm on November 15 to become
Canada's second aboriginal restaurant. (The other one is the
Liliget Feast House in Vancouver)
The restaurant is located in the trendy Byward Market area
of Ottawa. It has 57 seats and is decorated appropriately
with aboriginal paintings and artifacts. There is even some
very soft aboriginal music being provided for background to
your meal. This provides a very pleasant ambience for one's
OTTAWA CITY WOMAN MAGAZINE
"Sweetgrass hits the sweet spot"
10a.m. We catch Phoebe Sutherland on the phone, and she
already sounds exhausted. Turns out, she’s been at the
office since 5:30, taping a segment for the New RO’s
morning show. Seems everyone wants a piece of wife-husband
restaurateurs Phoebe and Warren Sutherland. Why? Two reasons:
One, because their brainchild, Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro,
is getting rave reviews, and two, because, well, aboriginal
restaurants don’t pop up every day (theirs is only the
second in Canada).
So how did Ottawa land Sweetgrass? Mainly because Phoebe,
a Cree from James Bay in northern Quebec, grew up in the capital
and knew the scene here well. She had long thought about opening
up an aboriginal restaurant but first needed some background.
And so followed the circuitous journey that ended at Sweetgrass.