A dining adventure with Ambrose Price

Karl Wells
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When Ambrose Price walks into a room heads turn. Aware of his effect, this son of Fortune, Newfoundland believes heads pivot because he's being recognized from television.

A few years ago he made a handful of appearances on a program called "Designer Superstar Challenge." Television is an influential medium but a few appearances on HGTV would not cause the reaction Price routinely gets from strangers in Canada's most populated city. After all, he's no Mike Holmes - or even Debbie Travis.

Fortune feller Ambrose Price toasts his good fortune during lunch with Karl Wells. Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

When Ambrose Price walks into a room heads turn. Aware of his effect, this son of Fortune, Newfoundland believes heads pivot because he's being recognized from television.

A few years ago he made a handful of appearances on a program called "Designer Superstar Challenge." Television is an influential medium but a few appearances on HGTV would not cause the reaction Price routinely gets from strangers in Canada's most populated city. After all, he's no Mike Holmes - or even Debbie Travis.

No, in Price's case it's something more organic. Ambrose Price has "star quality." It's hard to describe the commodity but I know it when I see it. It's partly physical. The guy is well over six feet tall. His dark eyes penetrate and his smile is electric. He and his kind possess a magnetism that ordinary mortals do not.

He is sitting opposite me at a small table in Sassafraz, an upscale Toronto eatery in Yorkville where the star of next fall's "The Decorating Adventures of Ambrose Price" happens to be living these days. I chose the restaurant for our lunch because I knew he'd love it. The food is terrific but the designer in Ambrose Price would appreciate its look.

Sassafraz is very white and neutral toned, from floor to ceiling, and while it's well lit, it has the kind of light you might expect to find beneath a rain forest canopy, comforting, relaxing. One area of the room has what's called a vertical garden, meaning a 15-foot wall has greenery growing on practically every inch of it.

Price's first words to me, spoken while seemingly mesmerized by the vertical garden, were, "That is so, so beautiful!" (Yep, I knew he'd like Sassafraz.)

Colourful contestant

I confessed to have watched him on "Designer Superstar Challenge." Because of his camp behaviour and Fortune Bay dialect, Price quickly established himself as the most colourful contestant. While you knew he wasn't the best designer (although he had his moments) and probably wouldn't win, there was no denying that Ambrose Price was eminently watchable.

HGTV executives came to the same conclusion and decided to find a vehicle for him. Presenting him as a seasoned designer would not work, but casting him in the role of the blank canvas, the novice who learns the "how to" along with the audience, would.

Enter Tonya Linton; director of original programming for HGTV, and producers Joseph Blasioli and Maria Pimental with an offer the 24-year-old couldn't refuse. "The Decorating Adventures of Ambrose Price" is now in its final stages of production, having begun filming last November. The 13-week series will run next season as HGTV's only new show.

"When I flew home to Newfoundland after being bumped off 'Designer Superstar Challenge,' I didn't shed a tear," Price tells me while eating an avocado salad, "because I knew something good was going to come from it. Not long after, Tonya Linton called me and said, 'Ambrose, you're headed for big things my friend and we want you here at HGTV.' I'm very intuitive. I knew 'Designer Superstar' was going to be my ticket and it was."

Who can blame him for being excited? HGTV is one of the most successful specialty channels in Canada. After landing his first job there, he's launching his own weekly national show. The perks are nice too.

"I have my own clothing stylist, Kara Cariff. She comes to my apartment every Sunday and lays out my wardrobe for the week and tells me what I'm going to wear. (He gets to keep any clothes that he likes.) I also have my own driver, Dean, who picks me up in the morning and drives me back home at night. The days are long though, between 12 and 16 hours."

Celebrity guests

As we moved into the main course (mine, a classic Cobb salad and his, a grilled chicken breast with baby bok choy) I asked about the show and what he's been doing on it. Turns out, some of his adventures have included guest appearances by a handful of well-known celebrities like Preston Bailey, Oprah's event planner, actor Graham Greene, Mike Holmes himself and a few other luminaries that Price admits were unknown to him.

"Everybody in the office was so excited that Sonja Smits was gonna be on the show. She's a beautiful woman, but I didn't have a clue who she was."

I told him I didn't watch Smits on "Street Legal" or "Traders" either and that he probably wasn't even born when "Street Legal" aired.

Each episode of his series features Price in several different situations or "adventures." Because bloggers have been divulging many of the best moments from what's been filmed so far, he was reticent about telling me too much. You will see him learning how to make French pleated drapes, competing with some of Toronto's finest cake decorators and doing a home staging for a million-dollar loft. In one particularly harrowing excursion, he thought he was going to pass out.

"They came to me and said, 'Today you're going to learn how to be a high-rise window cleaner.' So next thing I was up on this building, frightened right to death and screamin' just like a girl. I almost had a stroke ... I was only three floors up."

Ambrose Price had better hold onto his hat. I predict this engaging Newfoundlander will be rising much higher once "The Decorating Adventures of Ambrose Price" hits small screens this fall.

Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute and judge with the Cuisine Canada/University of Guelph Culinary Book Awards. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: Cuisine Canada, University of Guelph

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, Toronto Yorkville Fortune Bay

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  • mary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Congrats Ambrose, can't wait for your show in the fall. I'm sure you will be a huge success as you have all the talent and the qualities. You make us newfoundlanders very proud, we have so much hidden talent on our island thank God yours went national. Wishing you every success with your new adventures!!

  • mary
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    Congrats Ambrose, can't wait for your show in the fall. I'm sure you will be a huge success as you have all the talent and the qualities. You make us newfoundlanders very proud, we have so much hidden talent on our island thank God yours went national. Wishing you every success with your new adventures!!