Issue 48, Number 4
Written By: Fatima Siddiqui
Tony Fernandes’ love for food permeates the kitchen at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport hotel. “If you don’t have passion or love for food, you cannot be in this business,” affirms the food and beverage director and group executive chef. “[It] shows on the plate.”
Embracing the career path of his grandfather and father, Fernandes began cultivating an interest for cooking at the age of 11 when he worked alongside his father — an instructor at the Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai, India, which became the budding chef’s alma mater. “I stayed in that college for 25 years when my father was teaching. We had accommodation, so I breathed food. I always wanted to be a top chef.”
That intense drive propelled Fernandes to become an executive chef while working in Dubai at the age of 28. It was at the Hotel Holiday International when he assumed the dual position of food and beverage director and executive chef — one of the first few chefs in the country to possess the title. But, eventually he moved to Canada to explore new opportunities.
Today, the 55-year-old toque fulfills the same role for the Toronto-based Royal Equator Inc., which operates the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport, Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Mississauga and Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Airport. The menus cater to international clientele, although Fernandes’ dishes always have a French foundation.
“Coming from India, I know the Indian spices, Asian spices, the Thai, and I know the West and how they work. Being trained in French cuisine, I marry the spices and do fusion.”
Popular dishes at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport hotel include smoked salmon two ways ($13); mixed grill, Lebanese-style ($28); and roasted Cornish hen ($25).
For Fernandes, the kitchen is his sanctuary. The hotel’s walls are adorned with more than 45 awards from culinary competitions worldwide. Late last year, his team won gold at the Culinary World Cup, creating more than 25 dishes. Like any competition it was a learning experience. “I want to learn, and because of these competitions I [gain] more knowledge of the latest trends.”
Not only does Fernandes compete, but he is also a World Association of Chefs Societies’-approved international culinary judge. Working in the community seems to be part of the job: he has taught courses about the latest food trends at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont. and Humber College in Toronto, and he mentors secondary and post-secondary interns.
It’s all part of his 30-year career journey, which has also included work in five-star hotels in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and India. Fernandes has served celebrities, prominent political figures, including former Prime Minister Paul Martin, the president of India and the first lady of Poland. He’s appeared on TV programs, such as Toronto’s Breakfast Television, and The Escoffier Society of Toronto has recently named him the Central Region Chef of the Year for 2015. “I always say being a chef looks like a very glamorous life, but it’s not very glamorous,” he says. “It’s a lot of hard work.”