Interview with Carole Amerongen of The Dish
Ever since she was a young girl, Carole has demonstrated an interest in cooking. Her parents picked up on her passion, and so when it came to gifts, her siblings would receive matching sweaters while Carole was given cookbooks.
Carole recalls a specific Christmas when this same trend occurred yet again. In a flurry of rage after opening her suspiciously cookbook-shaped gift, Carole threw the book across the room. She was thirteen at the time, and spent the rest of Christmas Eve in her room. Carole now refers to this as “The Day of the Flying Cookbook.”
When were you first interested in the restaurant business?
I started working in the food industry at 15. I went to university but was always involved in the industry and was somehow drawn to a little café called Le Petit Marche in 1996 and I bought it.
What interested you about this particular kind of restaurant?
In the past I inevitably seemed to end up working at unique and friendly restaurants with plenty of character no matter where I lived. It simply appeals to me to be in that atmosphere whether as an owner or client.
Who have been some of the instrumental people who have really encouraged and supported you through the starting and maintaining of your own restaurant?
I’d have to say I’ve received the most encouragement from my clients. For example when I first bought my place there was one gentleman who used to eat there every other night. He stuck by me through all the growing pains and changes, and always reminded me the place was special.
What makes your restaurant interesting/unique to other restaurants? Chain restaurants in particular?
I think the overall experience is different from a chain for obvious reasons… menu, staffing, atmosphere to name a few. I have no problem with chains per say but I hope people don’t limit themselves to just that experience. It’s fun to discover you like something new particularly if it is right in your back yard.
It has been said that the décor of a place often reflects a person’s personality. What particular accessory/accent would you say most reflects your personality? What aspect would that be?
The Dish is like a woman in a coat from Holt Renfrew, sneakers from Old Navy and a scarf that her war bride grandmother was wearing when she arrived in Canada. It’s got a classy touch, a fun, casual air, and a very warm feel. In that sense it reflects what I like.
What is your vision for the restaurant?
It goes back to that sense of discovery. I want the place to be consistent, but never become predictable. I want it to have a well developed wacky side.
What are the most significant joys and struggles of being an independent restaurant owner?
Well there is rarely a dull moment and you are, as the boss, wholly responsible for your success or failure. Obviously that is the appeal but it is definitely not without ongoing challenges.
Do you have a family? Are they involved in the restaurant?
I have two cats who have declined every offer to become gainfully employed at my business or anywhere else for that matter.
How are you involved in the community around you?
I work with 124 Business Association and the Scott Gallery as well as being part of a building with other merchants all of which contributes to our success.
Do you support any charities?
I try to honor almost all the requests we receive for donations in some way.
Where do the ideas for your food come from? What is the inspiration behind the masterpieces?
We go by word of mouth, and by taste of mouth: we refuse to serve something unless we find it delicious. That’s what keeps it personal, and as much an art as a business.
How large a role do ethics play in your choice of products? Do you buy locally/organically/fair trade?
We do use local products and if we must export we make every effort to use small local businesses to provide that product.
Where does the restaurant’s name come from?
When we knew we were going to create a second kitchen dedicated to catering we decided we needed two separate names that went well together. I once took a Children’s Literature course that explained the true origin of the nursery rhyme and since I found it amusing I used it.
What are some of your interests/hobbies outside of the restaurant business?
I love to travel (an embarrassingly stock answer) and luckily get to more than I used to.