My Ottawa: Joe Thottungal dishes on his favourite eats and his own little piece of tropical paradise

Joe Thottungal
"Chef Joe" Thottungal of the Coconut Lagoon and Thali
Editor's Note

My Ottawa is an occasional column where we ask local business personalities about their life in the nation’s capital and what they like most about the city.

Joe Thottungal, or Chef Joe as he is affectionately called throughout the city, knows a thing or two about food. 

As the owner of Coconut Lagoon and Thali, Thottungal has brought Indian cuisine in Ottawa to a new level. Before opening his own restaurants, Thottungal worked in hotel kitchens in Toronto and Windsor and at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ottawa, where he earned his Certified Chef de Cuisine designation. 

In 2008, Thottungal was named Ottawa Chef of the Year by the Canadian Culinary Federation. In 2016, he won top prize at Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates competition, followed by a silver medal at the 2017 Canadian Culinary Championships. Most recently, he was recognized with the Order of Ottawa in 2023.

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When he’s not running his award-winning kitchens, it should come as no surprise that Thottungal is still cooking — and eating — with friends. Between seafood splurges in the ByWard Market and a great steak at home, Thottungal enjoys gardening, biking, checking out local greenhouses, and visiting Ottawa’s many ethnic and cultural festivals.

In this instalment of My Ottawa, we learn more about one of Ottawa’s most beloved chefs as Thottungal dishes on his go-to day trips from Ottawa, first-choice retailer — incredibly, it sells food — and why he thinks the culinary scene deserves recognition.

What area of the city/region do you live in?  

Chapel Hills, Orleans

What type of home do you have (condo, house, etc.)? 


What type of pet do you have? 

My restaurants are like pets!

What type of car do you drive? 

VW Atlas

What’s your favourite part of town?  

I love Orleans 

What is your favourite place to eat in Ottawa? 

My house! Ha ha, being diplomatic

What is your favourite local charity or cause? 

Every charity is dear to me. I believe that charity is a selfless act of kindness and generosity, and I try to practise it whenever I can. I believe that every little bit helps make a difference in someone’s life. Giving back to those in need not only helps them in their time of need, but it also brings a sense of fulfillment and purpose to my own life. Charity is not about how much you give, but about the intention and willingness to help others in any way possible.

What’s your favourite festival? 

Ottawa Jazz Festival and ethnic festivals 

What is your favourite food- or dining-based experience or activity in Ottawa?  

A stroll through the Byward Market enjoying the different offerings and a visit to our amazing local craft breweries. 

If you were to play tour guide for a first-time visitor to Ottawa for a day, where would you take them?

Rideau Canal, ByWard Market, Museum of Nature, the Senate building and in between enjoying different restaurants.

What’s your favourite retailer in Ottawa?  

Farm Boy 

What type of music do you listen to? 


Where do you get your hair cut? 

Royal Barber in Orleans 

What’s your favourite weekend outing to do with family or friends? 

Biking with my nine-year-old, cooking a good steak with potatoes, enjoying a family dinner and watching a movie with my family.

What Ottawa personality, past or present, do you admire?

Even though I never met them, I admire the late Jonathan Pitre and his courageous mum Tina.

If you took a staycation in Ottawa, what would you do? 

Start the day with a newspaper as always, attend a mass in the morning, spend some time on Petrie Island, have a seafood lunch. In the afternoon, I’d go and enjoy some wines and cheese at Domaine Perrault winery in Navan and enjoy the vineyard, then enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. I also do day trips to Merrickville, Perth, Chelsea and Wakefield.

What’s your favourite business event or conference in Ottawa? 

As I don’t attend these events often, I am not sure which one is the best; I am mostly on the other side serving them!

What’s your favourite thing to do in Ottawa to pamper yourself?

A day without phone calls or emails, relaxing in the backyard.

What local business or attraction do you think is one of Ottawa’s best-kept secrets?

Robert Plante Greenhouses. Being a garden lover and being from a tropical country, we enjoy a walk through the greenhouse during the middle of winter, which will take us back to Kerala. I love the air and colours; it is an immediate rejuvenation.

What is unique about dining and food in Ottawa? 

There’s a great diverse culinary scene here and it is getting better and better. To me, Ottawa is the best place to introduce unique cuisines and our well-diversified community will embrace the new experience.

What’s your favourite thing about Ottawa?

It’s a great place with a good sense of community and there’s a diverse range of activities and events available, from enjoying the museums to participating in festivals and concerts. The close proximity to nature and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and skiing make it a great place to raise a family and enjoy the great outdoors. Ottawa offers a high quality of life and a vibrant atmosphere that makes it a wonderful place to call home.

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