TORONTO — It was a memorial fit for a king — a king of chefs, that is. More than 200 people attended the recent memorial of Albert Schnell, who passed away in Toronto on August 23 at the age of 83. The iconic chef touched countless lives and so many of the toques he mentored, worked with and influenced were out in full force to celebrate his life and legacy.
The memorial was held on September 21st, at the Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, a congregation Schnell belonged to for years. The room was awash in chefs wearing their whites to celebrate the life of “Papa Schnell,” who spent 45 years of his 50-year career working for Hilton Hotels — first at the Queen Elizabeth in Montreal and then at the Hilton Hotel in Toronto — in an illustrious career that spanned decades. At the age of 28, Schnell became executive chef of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel; four years later he was appointed corporate executive chef of Hilton Canada, a position he held until his retirement from Hilton in 2000.
Chef John Cirillo, a protégé of Schnell, who worked with him at the Hilton in Toronto, spoke at the memorial, as did iconic chef Anton Mossiman, who flew in from London, England to be a part of it.
“Albert was a true professional who conducted himself well and always treated others with respect, handing out helpful advice to ensure everyone was working at their best. He loved his apprentices and chefs. He was very proud to see them grow in their careers. He kept in contact with most of them over the years. Many of them are here today,” said Cirillo, who replaced Schnell at the Hilton Toronto when he retired.
“I remember our one-on-one conversations that we shared in his office at the end of a busy day. Every time was the same: we would enter the office, shut the door, close the blinds and discuss everything that happened — good or bad. Those conversations made me the person I am today,” said Cirillo, who now runs a Toronto cooking school.
Schnell’s impact was lasting and he touched chefs everywhere. But the common thread, according to chef John Placko “was that he not only positively impacted their culinary careers in ways only Albert could, but he also coached them through tough times, gave them money if they needed it and offered them counsel, which, for some, changed their path in life. Many chefs came to Canada specifically to work for Albert. Many stayed and the country is better off in terms of talent because of him,” said Placko, who added, “Some are teachers passing on the lessons he taught us to the new generation of culinary professionals.”
For many of those chefs, the greatest praise they could offer is “All of us wanted to be like him and always tried to model our future leadership styles after him,” said Placko.
As Jason Bangerter, executive chef of Langdon Hall said in an Instagram post: “He was an inspiration to so many and a humble and gentle man. A mentor to culinary stars in Canada and around the world. His professionalism, dedication was extraordinary. His kindness and caring for everyone who worked for him was legendary. Words cannot describe the depth of his many contribution to the hospitality industry globally.”
Born in Zurich on August 9, 1935 Schnell always had a passion for cooking and quickly rose through the ranks to become a world-renowned chef. But, despite the success he garnered, he never lost his humility. He was a true gentle man and the antithesis of the temperamental chef stereotype that has often plagued this industry. He was affectionately referred to as “Papa Schnell” by the myriad chefs who worked with him over the years. He was mentor to chefs in all corners of the world and he maintained and cherished close friendships with them through the years.
Schnell was passionate about the profession of chef and worked to maintain the high standards of international cuisine, receiving many awards for his lifetime commitments to apprenticeship training and excellence in Culinary Arts. He was a member of several culinary organizations including the Escoffier Society of Toronto, the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Toronto chapter of the Les Toques Blanches, of which he was a founding member and its first president.
Chef Schnell leaves his wife Rosmarie, who he was married to for 57 years, his son Andre and daughter Marion. Donations in his memory can be made to Yorkminster Park Baptist Church or to the House of Compassion of Toronto.