This article was originally published in the 2019 Fall issue of Invest In Style Magazine.

 

Anthony Walsh began his culinary career decades before celebrity chefs splashed the covers of GQ and Vanity Fair, well ahead of the Food Network’s glamorization of the industry, and technological eons before every meal was worth a picture, let alone a post on Instagram. Walsh started as a busboy, a job firmly rooted in the realities of what it takes to work in the restaurant industry and succeed. During his tenure hauling dirty dishes, Walsh developed the work ethic and resilience needed to combat the stresses of today’s hottest restaurants – late nights, fast-paced work environments, health inspections, internal audits, strict margins, predicting food trends (and making them!) and requiring teams of people to work in concert without a rehearsal.

 

After taking a culinary break to study classical history at the University of Toronto, Anthony Walsh forged ahead to become one of the most influential chefs in the country. Today he is Oliver & Bonacini’s corporate executive chef and oversees 14 restaurants, 10 event venues, a catering arm and more than 480 back-of house employees across the country. His almost 30 years of hard-driving dedication have earned Walsh countless awards, including gold medals from Taste of Canada, Black Box, Salon Culinaire and the Ontario Hostelry Institute.

 

 

In 2016, Walsh was named Chef of the Year by Foodservice and Hospitality magazine as well as one of Toronto Life’s Most Influential People (which makes sense given his epic turnaround of Canoe and the fact that he’s cooked for Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, US President George Bush, and Princess Diana). He has been a featured guest chef at James Beard House, which is no small feat given that guest chefs are only selected if they “have national or regional reputation,” “demonstrated excellence in a particular discipline” and are “known for their use of high quality, seasonal, and/or local ingredients.” The latter quality is a result of an important mentor in Walsh’s life – Jamie Kennedy.

 

 

In his 2016 interview for Foodservice and Hospitality’s Chef of the Year, Chef Walsh explained: “Jamie Kennedy was the first chef I worked for who was truly nurturing.

 

There is a specific type of attitude towards cooking that I’ve developed from him. Whereas my mother influenced the emotional side of my cooking, [Kennedy] influenced the technical side. His philosophy really resonated with me. I remember going up to the Timber Hill Farm with Jamie, bagging pheasants and learning how to pluck them and going to Cookstown Greens and doing this whole farm-to-table thing. We literally did that before it was a thing; we put things in mason jars because we were using them. We weren’t being hipsters and laying them all through the restaurant and not ever using the stuff. This is the way Jamie Kennedy worked. There is a reason why he was always revered” (www.foodserviceandhospitality.com, Eric Alister).

 

Walsh continues to channel Jamie Kennedy’s passion for sustainability whenever curating menus for the dozens of restaurants he oversees. He also returns the favour of mentorship, as Walsh is now one of the most important mentors in the Canadian restaurant industry. His genuine concern and interest in those who are willing to work is evidenced by the fact most rising stars in the industry invariably attribute their success to Chef Walsh. His advice for aspiring culinary leaders: get a sense of humour to deal with the numerous (and unwarranted) egos in the kitchen, practice, practice and then practice again, and know your worth.

 

Walsh’s creativity in the kitchen was nurtured by his Irish Catholic mother who, along with Walsh’s father, lived in Montreal and emphasized the importance of eating together. Walsh fondly remembers those family gatherings as well as cooking one of his first meals at 14 years old – a classic French recipe, Chicken Dijon. While the flare of French cooking remains one of his favourite cuisines – a love that he’s imbued in both the décor of the popular Maison Selby and its menu – Walsh has since focused less on flash and complexity and more on flavour and simplicity. His movement away from pomp and show towards humble and authentic is inspired by his Argentinian wife and reflected in the acclaimed Argentinian cuisine restaurant, Lena. It’s his family now, not the accolades, that motivate Walsh to stay humble, work long hours and inspire the next generation of chefs.

Older Blog Posts