Antoinette Oliphant is speeding up.
The Whitehorse chef who used to hawk slow food on Second Ave and the Skky Hotel has opened a new joint on Fourth Avenue. It’s her third home in just under two years.
By 3 o’clock on Monday afternoon she’s already out of breath and she’s only half-way through her day.
“I don’t have much time for anything lately,” she said with a large smile masking her fatigue.
Oliphant purposely didn’t advertise the opening of her restaurant hoping to give herself some time to get up and going.
But that didn’t stop word of mouth travelling anyways.
Within her first couple days of business, she was already serving up her trademark Caribbean food to Dawson City Music Festival’s most sizzling act, Shakura S’Aida and her band.
“She’s so sexy, what a wonderful lady,” said Oliphant of S’Aida.
That night she dished up half-inch-thick steaks smothered with mushroom truffle gravy.
Then she received an unexpected request from S’Aida for mauby, a drink made from the bark of a Caribbean tree.
The bitter tasting drink, served in a tall beer glass, contains anise and sugar and is known for priming singers’ voices.
“She was floored that I actually had it,” said Oliphant, explaining she had it buried away in her kitchen.
“Of course though I had to run to the back and get on the phone to my mom and ask her how to make it.”
To please her regulars, Oliphant is planning to keep many of her classic dishes on the menu, like spicy Caribbean pork and lamb. But she’ll be adding a twist to some of her food to keep it fresh, like swapping the guava barbecue sauce in her lamb dish for Dijon mustard.
Come August, her menu will get spiked with a bit of French flair when a chef from France arrives to work in Oliphant’s kitchen.
“She has a wicked palette,” said Oliphant of the chef.
And the extra help in the kitchen will also mean service will be faster.
“I’ve been known for the slowness of my food – It’s not something that I want,” she said. “I’m trying to speed it up for folks.”
The menu will be small but it will have new features everyday, she said. It’ll also be heavy on appetizers, dishes that will be popular in the new lounge attached to her restaurant.
In a game of musical restaurants, Antoinette’s now occupies the same space used over the last year by the similarly named restaurant, Henriette’s and Caribbean eatery, Pickapeppa,
Oliphant has transformed the once-awkward dining area in the northern portion of the restaurant into a relaxing lounge space. The room is filled with plush brown couches, high tables and a sleek bar that looks like marble but is actually crafted from concrete.
“Lymond and Tytus Hardy installed that bar. It weighs about 800 pounds,” said Oliphant.
“It was scary watching them bring it in. I kept thinking, oh my God, don’t drop it.”
The feel of Oliphant’s new restaurant is chic, but not too frou-frou.
“Skky was fun, but it wasn’t my atmosphere,” said Oliphant speaking of the hotel that housed her previous restaurant.
“It was too…,” she hesitated from calling it clinical. “Architecturally correct.”
“I need old richness, I need soul. There’s soul in this building,” said Oliphant looking around to the walls that have been painted ripe reds and earthy brown colours.
Dark wood beams run the length of the ceiling, a fireplace fills one corner of the bar and an antique piano rests in the other.
Pictures of Oliphant’s mother and children hang prominently on the wall near the kitchen.
Oliphant credits her mother and grandmother for getting her into cooking.
Originally from Tobago, Oliphant grew up reading recipe books while other kids her age were reading chapter books.
“I always knew I wanted to entertain people,” she said.
Her first restaurant was in an old Manitoban convent. Then one of her customers lured her up to Dawson where she worked as a chef at the Aurora Inn. After a short stint working in a bakery in Marsh Lake she opened her first restaurant in Whitehorse in late 2008.
Two years later she’s back downtown.
“I lost a few customers when I was up at Skky,” she said.
“It’s not that its that far away, but people just didn’t want to go up the hill for food.
Soon her parents will be joining her up in Whitehorse, relocating their vegetarian vegan restaurant in Toronto to the vacant space where Triple J’s music used to sit.
“I can’t believe how much energy those two have,” said Oliphant. “I’ll be dead before they are.”
In the meantime, her sister Marva has been helping Oliphant get her new business going.
She flew to Whitehorse to surprise her for the opening on July 14th.
“I talked to her two days before the opening. She was in Toronto and didn’t say a word,” said Oliphant.
“I walked into the restaurant (the day of the opening) and I felt that someone was in there with me. I turned around and there was my sister – she’s standing by the door and caught the whole thing on camera.”
Now Oliphant is hoping it will be the last opening she has to do for awhile.
“I’m going to be here for a long time – this place feels very Antoinette.”
Antoinette’s is located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Steele Street. The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. for dinner.
Oliphant plans to have the lounge fully operational by the fall.
Contact Vivian Belik at