Crystal Carwin Lee (@crystalcarwin) loves food, so she is working her way through The Tomato’s 2013 to 2015 lists of best places to eat or drink in Edmonton. Restaurant profiles will be posted on TLG, and you can find her review of Ampersand 27 on her own blog.
Less than a year old, Ampersand 27 on Whyte Avenue has been another welcome addition to the Edmonton culinary scene. Garnering a no. 10 spot on The Tomato‘s list of 100 best things to eat in Edmonton for 2015, co-owner and executive chef Nathin Bye — previously of the Lazia Group — sat down to discuss this venture.
At just 32 years old, Nathin has already been cooking for more than half his life. At the age of 15, he decided to get started in the kitchen as a way of saving money for travel. That led to his calling as the man behind some of the best menu offerings this city has seen. The idea of small plates, allowing for a wider range of tastes throughout a meal, is something that he has embraced since his days at Wildflower Grill when he won the 2012 Gold Medal Plates competition. That aesthetic has followed him to Ampersand 27.
Nathin tells me that he always dreamed of having his own establishment, but he knew that it would entail a lot of hard work and an encompassing vision. He wanted to do something different — from the name of the restaurant to the food — so, the theory behind the moniker was that whether it was pizza & beer, family & friends, wine & cheese, or appetizers & entrees, there was always an “&” that joined them together, making the perfect pair. And, there are a lot of combinations that you can go with. The menu at Ampersand 27 is diverse. As Nathin likes to say, their cuisine is “food for foodies.” However, he doesn’t believe that in any way means that their selections are too highbrow for anyone. On the contrary. Nathin thinks that everyone is really a foodie at heart, meaning the dishes they serve have the ability to appease all.
The emphasis on those small crafted plates also encourages sharing at the table. Although it is very likely you’ll want to keep it all to yourself. From the whimsical composition and plating of the dishes to the in-house curing and smoking to their two pastry chefs — Tim Androschuk and Kirk Bueckert — they strive to provide a top-notch experience through the use of both modern and traditional techniques. Whenever they can, they try to source unusual and local ingredients (all of their friends and suppliers are listed on their website). They also recycle whatever they are able to, they participate in the use of OceanWise products and they work with those where they can see that love and care have been invested in the final product.
More than anything, Ampersand 27’s menu adheres to what Nathin says he thinks are the best qualities in a dish: composition, flavour and texture contrast, as well as execution.
Creating these unique dishes seems to come easily for Nathin and his team, but there were some things that didn’t pan out so well. As with any new business, there are often challenges and setbacks, and Nathin says that Ampersand 27 wasn’t immune. Taking over the location previously occupied by Murrieta’s, they found it difficult to develop and design the look of the restaurant in a pre-existing space. With certain foundations already built in to the room, decisions had to be made about whether fixtures would stay or go, if it would be useful or not. Yet the time Nathin and his team spent on perfecting the room was worth it. It’s a sleek establishment with beautiful decor, flexible seating and glittering lights that serve to warmly welcome patrons. The last setback, and a major one at that, was the delay in their signage. For a while, it was like a lighthouse without a light, except in this case, beaconing people towards the business. Thankfully, earlier this year after a long wait, their official logo now graces the front entrance.
Those problems aside, Ampersand 27 is fully aware of what it means to be a part of and to give back to the the community. Proceeds from the sale of their filtered Q Water goes to the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. They also support the Alberta Ballet and Camp fYrefly. When it comes to the neighbourhoods of Whyte Avenue and Old Strathcona, they often engage other small businesses by teaming up for events, and they keep up an ongoing dialogue with the community’s residents as well as their patrons. That great community of support is why Nathin says he thinks Edmonton is a wonderful place to start a business.
“Edmontonians embody the spirit of competition, uniqueness and complete drive that gives us an amazing opportunity to showcase Edmonton for what it is,” he says.
Luckily for Nathin, things just sort of fell into place. Ampersand 27’s location on Whyte Avenue opened up to him because of a previous business relationship. It was fortuitous, and Nathin says he is certain that this area of the city is going to be the next place in Edmonton to explode and rejuvenate.
Granted, things don’t always come down to luck. In life and work, Nathin’s philosophies are relatively simple: always sleep on a big decision, start every day fresh and everything happens for a reason.
“In an environment that is so intense and high paced, often things are said or done in the heat of the moment, or a decision needs to be made,” he continues. “How we move forward from those things is the important part.”
With a career that is essentially still in its infancy, Nathin Bye should continue to dream big. If he does, he has nowhere to go but up.