Urban Element makes culinary comeback by teaming up with Ingenium and its national museums of science and innovation

Ottawa business provides integrated food services and catering along with interactive workshops and demonstrations
Ferron Schelck
Darcy Ferron, vice president of business development for Ingenium and executive director of the Ingenium Foundation, with Urban Element CEO Carley Schelck at the opening of The Collective/Le Collectif café at the Canada Science and Technology Museum on Friday, March 4, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Urban Element, a major player on Ottawa’s food scene, is bringing its years of culinary and catering experience to Ingenium’s three museums: the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum.

The new partnership officially launched today with the opening of The Collective/Le Collectif, a new onsite café at the science and technology museum. Urban Element is now based out of the museum’s full-service commercial kitchen (not to be confused with the Crazy Kitchen exhibit that leaves you dizzy).

The Collective has created a local, fresh and seasonal menu for visitors of the museum. “It’s an elevated museum café experience,” Urban Element CEO Carley Schelck said in an interview.

Seed to Sausage, St-Albert Cheese, City Seltzer, Hummingbird Chocolate, Gibbs Honey, Enright Cattle, Almanac Grain and the Agricola organic farm are among the local and regional businesses with whom Urban Element is working. “We really need to be supporting our local economy, plus it’s really good business practice,” said Schelck.

The menu includes specialty foods such as pressed focaccia, seasonal soups, nutrient-packed grain bowls, sandwiches and wraps. The café is also cooking up tasty home-made items for kids, for when they run out of steam and need to refuel. 

What’s unique about the collaboration is the new food-based workshops, culinary sensory experiences, food and drink tasting events, and weekend programs for children that Urban Element will soon be offering to the public.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Darcy Ferron, vice president of business development for Ingenium and executive director of the Ingenium Foundation. “For us, we wanted a partner that really fits with our mission. We’re looking to collaborate and innovate. We want a bridge on key issues of our time, such as healthy food systems, stable food practices, and food security.”

Urban Element seemed like “the ideal” business to work with, he added. Ingenium is a Crown corporation that oversees national science and technology related museums.

Urban Element was first founded by Schelck and her husband, Oliver, in 2005. They currently employ 15 people, including executive chef Kassandra Pietropaolo. She’s a formally trained pastry chef who joined the business in early 2020, having formerly worked at Edgar restaurant in Gatineau.

Schelk Pietropaolo
From left, Urban Element's executive chef, Kassandra Pietropaolo, with Ottawa entrepreneur Carley Schelck, CEO of Urban Element, at the opening of The Collective/Le Collectif café at the Canada Science and Technology Museum on Friday, March 4, 2022. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Schelck has done considerable work in the community to address food literacy and food security. Five years ago, she and Ottawa chef Anna March launched Cultivating Cooks, a hands-on, classroom-based elementary school program that teaches about growing, cooking, preserving and eating nutritious local food. She’s also supportive of such non-profits as the Parkdale Food Centre and Ottawa Network for Education.

As well, the Ottawa entrepreneur works as a part-time professor in the School of Business at Algonquin College, and has twice been recognized by the Women’s Business Network of Ottawa as a businesswoman of the year finalist.

For Schelck, working with Ingenium means her business once again has a physical space. In January 2021, Urban Element vacated its former home, the old Fire Station 11 on Parkdale Avenue, after deciding its culinary events studio and cooking classes didn’t mix well with a pandemic. 

Urban Element transitioned to a more virtual business model that involved prepared meals, virtual classes and catering.  Through this experience, the business was able to acquire new skills and knowledge that it didn’t have before the pandemic, said Schelck.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do but I think this is the 2.0. This is the, ‘Okay, we have our vision. We’ve refocused again’. Everyone is ready to move forward.

“We knew we needed to create a home base somewhere and, at the very least, with a kitchen, but who we work with and who we collaborate with is always very important to us,” said Schelck, who’s feeling recharged over their new partnership with Ingenium. “It just felt like the right timing and the right organization.”

The museum’s kitchen is now the hub for Urban Element, which anticipates an expansion of its culinary and catering services to the remaining two Ingenium museums within the next six months. It hopes to launch its interactive food experiences and food literacy programs by the fall.

“We’ll be firing back up some of those key programs that we had at Urban Element.”

Schelck said she’s looking forward to once more connecting with people in person. “I get so much energy from getting to be creative again, working with a team, and just building something together again. It’s super inspiring, especially coming out of the last two years.”

Urban Element is also working with Birch Bark Coffee Company, an Orléans-based fair trade and organic coffee company with a social impact mission to directly support Indigenous communities with water purification units.