Born to Create

Karl Wells
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Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hall

I met Jonathan Gushue on a beautifully sunny August day in 1999, on an outdoor television set. I was doing a series of cooking segments at the time. An anonymous lady caller practically compelled me to put this, as she put it, "brilliant young man" on my show. She sounded so passionate and so certain about what she was saying I felt I had to call and chat with him.

After my first conversation with him, I realized he wasn't just a competent young chef. He wasn't someone talking about "recipes." Jonathan spoke of his passion for great food, properly prepared. He gave me his philosophy on food, wine and dining. I was certain I'd been speaking with a future great chef, someone with the potential to blaze new trails in the culinary arts. Former Fairmont Chef Steve Watson recently agreed.

Jonathan Gushue is executive chef of Langdon Hall Country House and Hotel and Spa in Cambridge, Ont. - Photo by J. Bielaski/Special to The Telegram

I met Jonathan Gushue on a beautifully sunny August day in 1999, on an outdoor television set. I was doing a series of cooking segments at the time. An anonymous lady caller practically compelled me to put this, as she put it, "brilliant young man" on my show. She sounded so passionate and so certain about what she was saying I felt I had to call and chat with him.

After my first conversation with him, I realized he wasn't just a competent young chef. He wasn't someone talking about "recipes." Jonathan spoke of his passion for great food, properly prepared. He gave me his philosophy on food, wine and dining. I was certain I'd been speaking with a future great chef, someone with the potential to blaze new trails in the culinary arts. Former Fairmont Chef Steve Watson recently agreed.

"Jonathan was special. It was obvious very early on that he was five-star material."

During the first of a few cooking segments we did, he created a stunning rustic picnic, featuring a symphony of beautifully balanced dishes. I thought his grilled calf tongue particularly innovative. I was amazed by the tenderness achieved. Then there were the venison and scallop rosemary brochettes using rosemary stalks as skewers. (He'd threaded them through the meat.) Also included were mussels papillote, a relish of onion marmalade, potato and smoked salmon salad and roasted pears with port and cinnamon. It was a tour de force.

Not for long

I knew Jonathan wouldn't be around here for long. He was brimming with confidence and an appetite to learn. Learn more. Do more. Ten years ago, St. John's didn't come close to offering the kind of creative cooking experience he deserved. He needed big city food experience and eventually he got it in London, Tokyo and Toronto.

"London was cutting edge and crazy. They always pushed everything to the limit. Sometimes I still can't believe I cooked there. In Japan, I learned a great deal of respect, patience, tolerance and restraint. Japan was more about how to approach the art of cooking. London was about how to cook."

Jonathan's intellectual approach to his subject is most likely inherited. His grandfather was Raymond Gushue, the greatly admired president and vice-chancellor of Memorial University from 1952 to 1966. I commented to Jonathan, who vaguely remembers his granddad (he was 6 or 7 when his grandfather died) that it was ironic that MUN's beautiful "dining" hall is named R. Gushue Hall.

"Yes it is, considering all he could cook was charred garlic beef sirloin. But he was very proud of 'his' dish."

Top jobs

Having worked his way up from breakfast cook's assistant through various jobs overseas and in Canada, Jonathan's last two jobs have tested his strength as a leader and culinary creator. In 2003, Jonathan became the restaurant chef at Truffles at The Four Seasons in Toronto. Truffles is a five-diamond restaurant - at the time, the only five-diamond restaurant in Ontario.

Currently he is the highly respected and much lauded executive chef of Langdon Hall Country House and Hotel and Spa in Cambridge, Ont. Langdon Hall is a member of the exclusive Relais and Chateaux club of hotels and restaurants, dedicated to perfection in all things. One must be invited to be a member.

These days Jonathan is creating menus for Langdon Hall's dining rooms that challenge and excite his staff of 23 cooks.

You might choose the terrine of fois gras and confit pig's tail with Meyer lemon and Turkish apricots, followed by the wild Abbotsford water duck in spiced honey, five-spice duck crystals and sweet sisley. To finish, there's the Cocoa Nib (mousse, dacquoise, fueutine) and le plateau de fromage affine (a selection of artisanal cheeses.)

Ramsey approach

Given the large number of staff reporting to him, I wondered if he ever felt the need to adopt the Gordon Ramsey (Hell's Kitchen) "take no prisoners" approach to running a kitchen.

"His approach is necessary to a point, especially in London. You can be finished overnight. If you look at it from his point of view, you can appreciate the stress. If anything goes wrong it's his fault. It's his name. So many times I have gone out to talk to guests, with a full dining room, and they ask me, 'Did you cook all this?' Now, how could one person cook for 80 people in two hours? That's how people think, or, don't think. So, if some young kid makes a mistake, Gordon is a bad cook. That's a huge source of stress. Gordon is the last of a dying breed."

Preparing food for the likes of Shaq, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Van Halen, Keifer Sutherland, Cindy Crawford and Wayne Gretzky (at Truffles) was heady stuff. For chefs at Jonathan's level, that kind of pressure can come at a price. Sometimes it affects your health and your soul. If one person can be given credit for making sure Jonathan stays healthy and grounded it's his wife Karen.

"My family is so supportive. Karen Collingwood, my wife, is a pillar of strength. She keeps us all together. I think it has been very hard for her. I work all the time, which leaves her to do pretty much everything. When that's done, she has to tackle her job as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. She is truly amazing."

Predictions

Jonathan predicts he'll be in Ontario for several more years. He told me he has much more to accomplish there. I don't doubt it for a second. However, he does miss Newfoundland. I asked him what he misses most about home.

"The smell. The people. The water. The Narrows. I could stare at it for hours. I get such a good feeling being there."

Methinks the lure of our "rock within the sea" is slowly but surely causing a turn towards home. It may take awhile but sooner or later Jonathan Gushue will return to his native land and cook for us again. I'm sure of it and I know he'd love it.

Organizations: Jonathan's, Four Seasons, Langdon Hall Country House

Geographic location: London, Toronto, Japan Ontario St. John's Tokyo Canada Cambridge Abbotsford Newfoundland

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