Years of yummy: Q&A with Tulips & Maple on turning 20

Tulips & Maple's Mark van der Pas and Kris Norenius

Tulips & Maple, one of Ottawa’s best-known and in-demand catering companies, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week. Founded in 1991, the culinary firm is the brainchild of Canadian Kristine Norenius and Dutchman Mark van der Pas, a partnership reflected in Tulips & Maple’s name. From weddings to galas to cocktail parties, Tulips & Maple seeks to innovate, inspire and impress through their food, using only quality ingredients and creative talent.

Tell us a little more about how Tulips & Maple got up and running.

Tulips & Maple, back in the day

We were two MBA grads living and working in the corporate world in Geneva, Switzerland with a strong desire to start our own business at the time.  As Mark was able to win Kristine’s heart with his culinary skills and European flair and Kristine won Mark’s heart thanks to Canada’s natural beauty, we thought this combo could be applied to build a successful business. We decided on catering and to launch in Canada. Ottawa was our chosen locale because Kris had an uncle here with a basement apartment and cheap rent!  That’s where it all began, in a basement apartment in Manotick, just the two of us cooking, testing, calculating and designing.  Our logo was inspired by our wedding stationary, which was created by Mark’s dad.
Twenty years is an accomplishment for any business.  How has Tulips & Maple changed over the years?

All photos courtesy of Tulips & Maple

The biggest change is size.  We started as a team of two and our first commercial space was 600 square feet.  We did small dinners and small weddings back then.  Now we have nearly 40 catering professionals and we enjoy our 8,000 square foot facility.  We love the challenge of catering large complicated events and multiple events on a single day.  What hasn’t changed is the passion to be the best and the drive to create.  We are blessed with a team of individuals who love the creative freedom at Tulips & Maple and who truly care about each and every event.
How has the food scene in Ottawa changed?
When we began Tulips & Maple, Mark, our fine European chap, was shocked at the lacklustre approach to food in Ottawa.  We are often told that he was instrumental in changing the food industry in the early days through his own high standards and innovative style.  Before we began, catering was about industrial sauces, frozen pre-made entrees and canapés.  Now it is so refreshing to see a broadbase belief in scratch kitchens and creative cooking.  There is a greater awareness of the culinary world by both professional chefs and customers. 

All photos courtesy of Tulips & Maple

Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

Kris:  Everywhere.  Reading, nature, art, travel, play and those ideas that come to you in your sleep at 3 a.m.!

Mark: Anything visual (reviews and blogs, web photo galleries, travelling, conferences), my industry colleagues and most importantly: new cooks starting in our business as they are not yet conditioned to what is feasible and practical. I enjoy the enthusiasm of our new culinary professionals as they help re-focus my beliefs that it can ALL be done.

All photos courtesy of Tulips & Maple

All photos courtesy of Tulips & Maple

What’s been your favourite Ottawa-based event that you’ve catered to date? What’s been your biggest?

It is really hard to choose.  Weddings are wonderful when you become almost part of the family.  You share the excitement, the special moment and sometimes the nervous energy.  The large VIP events are memorable too – serving the King of Sweden, the Genies and Spezzas’ wedding will remain fond memories. 

All photos courtesy of Tulips & Maple

Themed events bring a lot of fun to our team.  We’ve dressed as gladiators, Yukon saloon girls, Wizard of Oz characters and medieval court servants.  And then there are those events that have a lot of meaning – Taste of the Arctic – celebrating and raising awareness of our north and fund-raisers for special purposes.

As for our biggest, it depends how you define it!

  • In revenue: An absolutely gorgeous East Indian wedding where the father of the bride was probably one of our most-liked and professional clients.
  • In number of people: The opening reception of the new Royal Ottawa Hospital
  • In challenges: A wedding for the producer of a Food Network show
  • In “headaches”: A box luncheon delivery for over 1,000 people in a downtown office. It was spread over 16 floors and to be delivered and set-up within 45 minutes on a hot July day.  I can tell you how long it takes in seconds  for an elevator door to fully close after you have pressed the “close door ” button.

All photos courtesy of Tulips & Maple

You created a cookbook for your 10th anniversary. Any plans to do more of that? How are you celebrating your 20th anniversary?

Our 20th celebration will be quite exciting . . . and the planning and execution of the celebration is in the hands of our staff.  They are keeping the lid on things right now – even to us!  We do know the party will introduce new cater-taining concepts to Ottawa AND will be lots of fun.  As we reflect on our 20 years, it is not the recipes this time that we’d like to capture but the memories.  Eventually, we’d like to capture the funny stories and or things that are have happened that are for the professional eyes/ears only.   Over the next few years however, we will be very involved in continuing to raise the catering and food service bar in Ottawa.

When you aren’t cooking for others, where are your favourite places to eat/explore in Ottawa?

All photos courtesy of Tulips & Maple

Kris: We love going to farmer’s markets and out-of-the-way ethnic stores, picking out fresh ingredients, tasting country or authentic ethnic fare, making a tasty picnic meal out of our findings and settling in a lovely spot along the Rideau or Ottawa Rivers for a relaxing afternoon of noshing. Some of our favourite markets are the Metcalfe Farmer’s Market, the Carp Farmer’s Market and the stands in the Byward Market.

Mark:  I like to eat with my friends – whatever they prepare (from simple to extravagant), the best meal as always is scratch cooking with excellent ingredients and love, love, love.

What’s next for Tulips & Maple?

We’d like to help Ottawa be recognized as THE place to hold world-class, innovative events. The team at Tulips & Maple will continue with our passion and creative drive to raise the bar of events in our region and our country to really put Ottawa on the map. 
A new development this year is the launch of  a sister company called Great Canadian Plates.  This company will provide a new, tasty and refreshing option for  food services at the new Capital Exhibition Centre currently under construction near the airport and set to open in January 2012.  This is an exciting new venture for us.

Thanks for the chat! And check out LTOttawa in the coming days for photos of what sort of deliciousness went down at Tulips & Maple’s 20th anniversary party at the Canadian Museum of Nature.