Next thing I knew, I had been relieved of my dinner jacket, handed an apron and a sauce dispenser and put to work on the line, applying sauce to the plates of filet mignon just before they were approved for pickup by the chef in charge. A chef who did not release me before—in the middle of plating for 250—making her entire team drop what they were doing and give me an emphatically undeserved ovation.
Back then, when the Four Seasons Hotel chain was Canadian-owned and Toronto-based and still thought that their local flagship should be helmed by a Canadian chef, they had found the perfect pick for the job working as executive chef at Four Seasons New York. They brought her home, and she was executive chef at the Yorkville hotel—then on Avenue Road—for four great years. Then after following with another four running the Four Seasons New York, Crawford quit the hotel scene to launch with Lora Kirk her dream restaurant, Ruby Watchco, write some bestselling cookbooks and become a food television star.
How exactly she managed that unexpected transition makes quick, easy sense when I think back to that night when when I briefly joined her on the line. Her disarming charm. Her total ease at the helm of a banquet team cranking out a dinner for 250 guests (at an event for which the guest list invariably included Issy Sharp). And her ability—when most of her male contemporaries were still cursing out underperforming sous chefs, if not kicking them in the shins—to keep her team happy and even laughing while they got the job done, and properly.
We enjoyed Pitchin’ In and her years of firm and sensible (if largely unavailing) entreaties to lesser, failing chefs on Restaurant Makeover, but are mostly grateful for her practical tips on Chef School. More than any of that, though, we are delighted with the work she is doing to foster a better work environment for women (and everyone else) in the professional kitchen, and especially for her tireless work in raising funds for the Open Kitchen Toronto Female Culinary Scholarship at George Brown. And for all that, American Express wishes to salute Lynn Crawford with its Lifetime Achievement Award for 2018.
– JACOB RICHLER