As I glance over the menu, the Bison Meatloaf catches my eye. Made Forestiere-style with wild mushrooms, wrapped in bacon, and served with homemade rustic ketchup, it would definitely hit the spot on this cold evening here in Ottawa. The bread basket that arrives is filled with offerings made in-house by the pastry chef. You could be forgiven for thinking I was at a fancy establishment downtown, but I am at the Garden Grille at Hilton Garden Inn Ottawa Airport, and the place is packed.
Scott Lucano has overseen the Garden Grille here for eight years. With an Italian background, Lucano grew up on antipasto and Mediterranean feasts, where Sundays were dedicated to sauce and sausage making, and this influence shines through not only in the seasonal menu of rich pasta dishes, grilled meats, and arancine, but also in the family-friendly atmosphere. “You should see it on a Sunday” he states simply, as I marvel at the crowds, “our breakfast buffet must be the most popular in the city”. Indeed, it is not only out-of-towners who are populating the restaurant tonight. Locals flock to the Garden Grille for its top-quality food at very reasonable prices. “We have a couple who come in for lunch and dinner every single day” he muses. “How many hotel restaurants can say that?” Indeed, repeat guests make up the vast majority of diners, a testament to Lucano’s passion for quality and insistence on affordability. “Being next to the Airport, we receive a lot of guests when flights get delayed or cancelled” he explains. “They come to us tired and hungry, so we try very hard to turn that bad experience into a positive one, with comforting, nourishing, familiar food.” This approach is clearly working well for Lucano, who admits that occasionally hotel food gets a poor reputation. “I want to break the stigma of overpriced watered down hotel food” he explains.
An Ottawa native, Lucano has been in the hospitality industry since culinary school. Never a 9-to-5 person, he embraced the challenge of working in a fast-paced hotel restaurant environment, becoming a respected leader at a young age. “The day and age of the yelling Chef is over” he laughs, “now it’s all about fostering people with great ability, supporting them in their career, and giving them a strong role model”. His food philosophy is attuned to simplicity; finding good quality local ingredients and utilizing proper cooking techniques. “I’m not into super wordy menus” he chuckles “I don’t do foams. I like to put quality ingredients on a plate and manipulate them as little as possible to let the food speak for itself. Sometimes I’m into Indian food, tomorrow I’m into Thai food…as long as it is authentic.”
You can’t get more authentic than some of the key ingredients in his dishes, namely the herbs from the hotel rooftop herb garden, and the honey from the hotel’s Apiary. “These are things that you tend to see in bigger hotels and larger operations” Lucano states. While nothing could be more local than the rooftop, Lucano ensures that other ingredients are sourced nearby, such as the St. Albert cheese he uses in the Smoked Cheddar and Potato Soup or the Mrs. McGarrigle’s Tarragon Honey Mustard on the Roasted Salmon.
At the end of the day, Lucano still does most of the cooking at home. With 4 year old and 6 year old boys, he ends up being more short-order cook than Executive Chef during the week, but still makes time to slow it down on the weekends. And Sunday is still Sauce Day.

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