Clarendon Nov. 3, 2023
The Little Red Wagon Winery in Clarendon boasts many things: a beautiful space to eat, drink and mingle, regular live entertainment, a selection of their own home-grown wines, and now, Joey.
Joel (Joey) Smith is the new chef at the winery’s restaurant, and he is loving the job.
“I like the place, I like the people, I like the menu, the setup, the surroundings. It’s close to home,” Smith said. ”It ticks all the boxes . . . And it just came at a perfect time.”
Born and raised in Ottawa, Smith has spent a lifetime working with food.
After 36 years at a family-run business called Nate’s Deli, he worked in catering at Dooley’s, an upscale pool hall, and finally at the Ottawa Mission, a men’s shelter in the city.
At the Mission, he would help prepare as many as 3,000 meals a day, work he said was “really fulfilling.”
Smith started his new position at the winery at the beginning of September.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Smith said of the transition into a much smaller-scale venue.
“I always did industrial [food] – big numbers, catering and food prep – but I was ready for a change. Here with local food and people, it’s great.”
Smith said he’s enjoying the change of pace offered by life in a rural setting, but still values his many years of experience working in the city.
“You know, doing this job for so long I was lucky enough to experience so many cool things, from serving celebrities and royalty to having a drink with Mordecai Richler, as well as cooking for people who are less fortunate,” said Smith, adding that his work in the food industry brought him as far as holding the Olympic torch.
“Besides the long hours, shi**y pay and lack of pension, I loved every minute of it,” he said.
Smith’s talents aren’t limited to the kitchen; he’s also taken up closing the winery’s regular open mic nights.
“I rush to take off my little apron after work, I run up in my cooking pants, my funny little shoes – and sing,” he said, adding that he sang professionally for years in groups performing everything from R&B to show tunes.
“It’s always been a big passion of mine, and I miss it,” he said. “Here I get to cook, I get to sing, it’s perfect.”
‘A big apron to fill’
Smith and his wife Gail, made the move from the city at the end of May.
As cottage owners in the area, the Pontiac was already familiar turf.
“But I have a big apron to fill,” Smith said, referring to that of his predecessor at the winery’s restaurant, Emma Judd.
“I know my limits,” Smith said with a laugh. “I’m not a baker, and she’s fantastic, so I call her and she comes in and makes the desserts.”
“She’s young and full of energy. And the passion she has, it’s great,” he added.
According to Smith, Judd stepped away from her work at the winery to focus her time on completing the renovations of her bed and breakfast in Shawville.
“I’m here for a reason,” Smith said, explaining that he chose to work at the winery because he enjoyed the Judds as a family. “I wanted to pick something that I could actually be happy with, and be proud of.”
“I respect the way they work. It’s a great work ethic . . . and I think highly of that.”
Smith said that he also had great respect for the effort made at the restaurant to keep food locally-sourced.
“They make the wine, obviously, but even the honeybee hives are here,” he said, “We try to source all the vegetables and stuff, the cheese, everything.”
Smith said the Judds are quite open to the culinary direction he’s hoping to take in the kitchen, but that while some pastas have been added to the menu, he wants to concentrate on just a few special items.
“They gave me free reign, right,” Smith said. “So I brought smoked meat up here right away. That’s something we’re famous for at Nate’s and something I’m proud of.”
He said many of his former customers in the city have cottages in the area.
“When they see it’s the same meat, they start coming out,” Smith said.
“I just want to see this place grow and grow and grow.”
You can catch Smith in action in the winery’s open-concept kitchen, 1-5 p.m. Friday through Sunday until the end of November, at which point the restaurant’s hours will change for the winter season.
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