Inside Scoop: Chef Stev George of Olivea

By Jordan Whitehouse

To get the inside story on Kingston’s downtown food scene, I went to one of its pillars, head chef and co-owner of Olivea Stev George, who’s been plating drool-inducing authentic Italian fare like house-made  gnocchi and ragu with beef cheeks from the corner of Brock and King since 2008.

Photo courtesy of the Downtown Kingston BIA
Photo courtesy of the Downtown Kingston BIA

But his history with food in this city stretches decades back, back to when he was still a teenager living at home in Kingston with his parents. Like many great chefs, Stev was inspired by his mom’s cooking, but it was an Italian friend of his folks who lit the spark for his passion for food, he says. From there, the fire was stoked by stints at acclaimed restaurants that included Chez Piggy (his first job at 18), Pan Chancho and Vancouver Island’s Sooke Harbour House, along with travel all over Europe and formal training at Stratford Chefs School.
Read on for Stev’s take on K-town’s food scene, his go-to restaurants and bars in the city, and what’s coming up for Olivea over the next couple of months.

For those who’ve never really experienced Kingston’s restaurant scene, what should they know?

That there are a lot of really great, fun restaurants downtown, all within a four block radius — probably about 15 to go to. And they’re all a bit different, they’re owner operated and you can get a different experience at each. None are cookie cutter, because there’s a lot of emphasis on doing something a little different than the other guy. So most people in Kingston have their favourites, but they move around, they don’t always eat at the same restaurant.

What are a couple of your favourites right now?

I’m going to dis somebody by not talking about them, but Tango is our next door neighbour, and they’re doing some really fun things with tapas. It’s a great environment, too, and it’s really well run. They’re putting so much effort into it, and it seems to be paying off. The neighbour on the other side of us, Casa Domenico, I always like eating there. It’s a great Italian restaurant, always has been, so if we’re going out for a really nice meal, that’s often where we choose.

Do you have a favourite dish at Casa?

There are so many, but they have a scallop appetizer that is really amazing.

How about a bar or a spot you like to go for drinks — do you have a go-to?

Red House is one to mention. They’re trying to bring something different here, and you don’t feel like you’re in Kingston when you’re there, honestly. You feel like you’re in a Toronto bar. They always have interesting beers to choose from, it’s unique and they’re doing a great job. It’s a real gathering place, and so popular and packed with people, so it’s vibrant. And all the guys that work there, they’re out and about; they’re involved and part of the whole dining scene and community downtown.

What’s coming up for Olivea over the next couple of months? Any special events?

Well we do a dinner and movie night every now and then, where team up with The Screening Room, show a film there and then build a menu based on the movie. It’s a cool idea and people really enjoy it. So we’re doing one on November 23 [movie starts at 5:30], another in January and one in February. The one coming up is the movie “Chef” with Jon Favreau.

Any details you can share about the menu you’ll be pairing with “Chef”?

Like the food truck does in the movie, we’ll be serving a Cubano sandwich at the theatre when people arrive, and then after the movie they walk down to Olivea where we’ll have a three-course menu. I’m still working out the details, so I haven’t finalized anything, but there’s a scene with spaghetti aglio e olio, and that’s going to be on the menu for sure.
Head to for all of the details, as well as info about other ongoing special events, including Pasta Sundays and Tuesday Night Jazz.