Whitehorse is not the place to immediately spring to mind for international gourmet cuisine, particularly international gourmet cuisine with a Caribbean twist. But that is exactly what visitors to Yukon’s capital discover at Antoinette’s, the city’s sunny, vibrant restaurant. A favourite of visitors and residents alike, it carries the name of owner and chef Antoinette GreenOliph, a woman who radiates love and joy in everything she does.
“Antoinette is like waking up on a tropical island and when the sunrise above the ocean, you are filled with the beauty and joy of life,” is how one of her regular customers describes her and the world she has created in her adopted home.
Vacay.ca: You were born in Trinidad and Tobago and you now live in Whitehorse. Tell us about that journey.
Antoinette GreenOliph: My mother, a strong woman and single mom, immigrated to Port Credit, Ontario, in 1967. My sister and I joined her in 1969. We were the only Black family in the neighbourhood. There were lots of awkward questions and the feeling of growing up different. As an adult, I worked in the corporate world. Staring at a computer all day is not Antoinette, but by this time, I had two children to support and you do what you have to do. One day I had a panic attack and walked out. I was 40. I came out as a gay woman and changed my life drastically, moving to St. Pierre Jolys, Manitoba, just south of Winnipeg. Here in 2002, I opened my first restaurant. It became an instant success and I found me. Four years later, I was offered a job as head chef at a Dawson City inn. This was the first place in my entire life where I felt comfortable being who I was: a gay Black woman.
Vacay.ca: What was your first impression when you went north?
AG: I got off the plane in Whitehorse and, instantly, fell in love. There was hoarfrost all around, icicles hanging off the roofs; it was very cold; it was beautiful. The six-hour drive to Dawson City was even more beautiful. I knew before I even got to the inn that I would take the job.
Vacay.ca: Then what happened?
AG: I went back to Manitoba, closed down the restaurant, sold my house, and moved north. I worked at the inn for one season, but being a better boss than an employee, I decided to open my own restaurant — Antoinette’s. A year later I moved it to Whitehorse, which was a year-round destination, in 2008?
Vacay.ca: Prior to opening your own restaurant in St. Pierre Jolys, had you had any restaurant experience?
AG: No! None at all. It was a steep learning curve, but I had a unique style and hard work paid off. I was written up in Anne Hardy’s Where to Eat in Canada and am still listed in the 2018-19 edition as Best Restaurant in Whitehorse.
Vacay.ca: How did you learn to cook?
AG: I fell in love with food as a young kid. I wasn’t born for tropical heat. I would sit under my favourite mango tree, out of the hot sun, and read recipe books. My mother, Ruby, was a cook and my grandmother, Rezzie, a baker. I was their shadow. They were a great influence. And, I taught myself with the tenacity to do what I knew I was meant to do.
Vacay.ca: Tell us about Antoinette’s.
AG: When you walk into Antoinette’s it’s a feeling that you are coming over to my house to “lime”. You are instantly welcomed by the brightness — the primary Caribbean colours. It’s very powerful. It’s an atmosphere that makes you feel at home. We make sure we know all the regulars’ names. My wife, Inga Petri, and I work together. She is my German goddess. I am the Caribbean queen. Now there’s a couple for you!
Vacay.ca: What is liming?
AG: It’s Trinidadian slang for hanging around, usually in a public place with friends, enjoying the scene and gossiping. Liming started out with people hanging out under a lime tree. There was usually some kind of rum involved. Liming happens in people’s homes, or even on a street corner in Whitehorse on a Friday night.
Vacay.ca: What is it that you love about Whitehorse?
AG: The land. It’s so vast. The mountains — even the wild life is beautiful and provocative, though you constantly keep in mind that bears, coyotes, or big cats can take you down.
Vacay.ca: You have been “liming” in Whitehorse for 12 years. How has the city changed in that period?
AG: It has grown like crazy. Even though buildings are capped at six storeys, the skyline is changing. The demographic has changed a lot. It’s amazing how diverse the city has become. It’s so Canada. I was in Wal-mart the other day and every corner I turned, there was another Black face. Where am I, I thought?
Vacay.ca: How would you describe your cooking style?
AG: We serve an eclectic mix of international dishes infused with Caribbean flavours. Sometimes it’s Canadian, or Indian, Japanese, or German. Because of the way I cook, I still have to import some things but there are many more products available in supermarkets that weren’t here 15 years ago.
Vacay.ca: If I came for dinner at Antoinette’s, what would you suggest I order?
AG: One of my three signature dishes:
- Spicy Caribbean Pork Stew that’s cooked with Christmas spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice — and, of course, a little hot sauce, or;
- Halibut T&T [Trinidad & Tobago] where the fish is lightly steamed and served with a yummy coconut sauce that is packed with thyme basil and cilantro, or;
- Mustard-encrusted Lamb – a French cut rack of lamb served with my secret sauce.
And for dessert, coconut crème brulé or the chocolate rum truffle cake with chocolate rum sauce. It’s decadent. I don’t understand the word simple.
Vacay.ca: Once the COVID-19 pandemic ends where is the first place you plan to visit?
AG: Italy. Petri and I were married on June 13. Our honeymoon was booked for Italy. Great honeymoon this is, we said at the time. Italian is my favourite food and we will still get there. I’m just not sure when.
Vacay.ca: What would you like to be remembered for?
AG: I am a strange animal who has lived many lives. This business isn’t for the faint of heart. But it’s worth the effort when you see the smiles on customers’ faces and you know the food is good. I love people. I would like to be remembered for my big heart, my kindness.