• Hunter Cresswell

Culinary community mourns beloved Chelsea chef

The Gatineau Hills lost a culinary titan last week.


Chelsea French-Canadian fine-dining restaurant L’Orée du Bois announced the death of its head chef and owner Jean-Claude Chartrand on March 31. He was 53 years old.


L’Orée du Bois chef and owner Jean-Claude Chartrand, pictured here in 2016 with his Frères Haeberlin Trophy competition prize, died last week. He was 53. Low Down file photo
L’Orée du Bois chef and owner Jean-Claude Chartrand, pictured here in 2016 with his Frères Haeberlin Trophy competition prize, died last week. He was 53. Low Down file photo

“JC-the-body will always be a legend in our community,” Les Fougères chef Yannick La Salle told The Low Down, referring to Chartrand by his kitchen nickname.


Starting in 2006, La Salle was Chartrand’s sous chef in the kitchen, but also a friend outside of work.


“He loved bold food, it was nothing about fanciness,” he said.


Village House cook Christophe Legault got his start in the l’Orée du Bois kitchen fresh out of culinary school when Chartrand was still the sous chef to former chef and owner Guy Blain, and later worked as sous chef under Chartrand.


“The passion with which that man burned for food and life was inspirational,” he said about Chartrand.


Chelsea resident Marie Pier Cham was a good friend of Chartrand and lived near him. Chartrand’s daughter would sometimes babysit her young children and Chartrand, who loved animals, would always offer to dogsit for her. Cham joked that her dog would eat better than most people in his home.


“When you went to the restaurant, you could always hear him laugh, even from the kitchen, and people laughing with him,” she recalled.


In the kitchen, he was a leader and a chef that broke the mold of the stereotypical macho chef.


“He was a great big teddy bear, forget about f*****g Gordon Ramsay,” Legault said about the star British chef known for his fiery temper. “[Chartrand] was not a hard-ass.”


“Jean-Claude never took himself too seriously. He would never put himself higher than anyone else,” La Salle said.


Prolific Ottawa-area food critic Anne DesBrisay noted in her 2016 review of l’Orée du Bois how the names of all the kitchen staff, from the dishwasher to sous chef, were written at the bottom of the menu.


“They seemed such a tight group, a happy team,” she told The Low Down.


Outside the kitchen, he was the same friendly and welcoming man employees and restaurant regulars came to know.


“I can hardly think of him without his arms outstretched and ready for a hug,” Les Fougères co-owner Jennifer Warren-Part reminisced.


Le Resto Chelsea chef and co-owner Line Boyer said that she’d run into him while grocery shopping at Freshmart. He always asked about how business was going and would encourage her to keep her chin up through the pandemic which, to say the least, has been difficult on the restaurant industry.


“It’s a huge loss for the local culinary community,” she said about his death. “It’s like losing one of your companions … It touches everyone in Chelsea.”


Chelsea Shawarma owner Jacob Chaho said Chartrand would come with his family, smiling and laughing, to order a spicy chicken shawarma plate and pizza for dinner.


“He was such a nice guy, I was shocked in the morning [when he died]. I couldn’t believe it,” Chaho said.


News of Chartrand’s death came just days after the restaurant announced that it would close on March 27 because a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, so all staff would get tested as a precaution.


There has been no official cause of death released yet, despite media reports that he died of COVID-19.


Hull MNA Maryse Gaudreault posted about Chartrand on her Facebook page on March 31, writing that he had tested COVID-19 positive days before his death.


“No one is safe from this dreaded virus. I wish to offer my deepest condolences to his family and friends,” she wrote, translated from French.