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Rafael brusilow/for metro toronto
At Toronto’s most iconic hotel, John Cordeaux is the ebullient, beating heart of a world-class kitchen.
As director of food and beverage operations at The Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, Cordeaux, 46, ensures more than 1.1 million meals get served every year out of the Fairmont’s enormous kitchen, which stretches almost across an entire city block from York Street to Bay Street.
A world-class chef in his own right, with 27 years of experience spanning hotel kitchens in England, Scotland, Vale, Col., and Montreal, Cordeaux has led the Fairmont’s food operation in Toronto since 1999.
Today, the man from the tiny village of Scotter in Lincolnshire, U.K., still exhibits that youthful exuberance and love for food that carved his career path for him. He credits his mother with giving him an appreciation for the art of cooking.
“My mother was a great cook. She was always cooking and the kitchen was always alive — I loved that,”Cordeaux said.
Though Cordeaux’s parents originally sent him to a private school in the hopes he would become a doctor or lawyer, Cordeaux looked up at his mother one day and told her he “fancied working with food.” She quickly took him down to the local bakery and asked the owner if he’d mind having an assistant.
So, at the tender age of 11, Cordeaux had a summer job working 60 hours a week for 50 pence per hour rolling bread, setting up pots and meticulously sanding down stove-grime even after a 12-hour shift.
“In those days we would finish cooking and then clean the stoves with sandpaper. It was a tough regime — you just did as you were told,” he said.
Just before he turned 16, Cordeaux decided to start a culinary apprenticeship instead of going to university.
“My university was the kitchen,” he quips proudly.
Despite his considerable talents as a chef and great successes leading his entire team at the Fairmont, Cordeaux remains humble.
“You cannot survive in the kitchen unless you’ve got great people working with you, and I also don’t think I’d be here today if there weren’t some inspired individuals who said, ‘Let’s take a chance on this guy,’” Cordeaux said.
He loves the daily challenges of his job.
“What excites me is the fact that I’m always learning. You’re getting thrown curveballs all the time and you have to be creative to deal with it all. I love what I do,” he said.
As for the eternal popularity of quality cuisine, Cordeaux attributes it to the amazing power of food.
“The kitchen is the heart of every household. If you were to list the top five experiences with your family, I bet you at least three of them would involve food.”