Happy Retirement Chef Harty!
Quentin Harty has spent over 40 years working in the hospitality industry, and we’ve had the pleasure of spending the last 26 years with him as our Executive Chef at the RBC Convention Centre. On the occasion of his retirement, we recently sat down with him as he reflects on his impressive career.
When did you realize you had a passion for cooking and wanted to pursue this as your career?
I became passionate about cooking at a very young age. During my childhood years, I seized every opportunity to spend time in the kitchen with my mom, who was an incredible cook. I spent much of my childhood cooking, baking, and canning with my mom and two older sisters.
My culinary career started at age 15, although I didn’t realize it at the time. My first job was at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina where I worked for the duration of my high school years. I attended school full-time during the day and worked full-time in the kitchen on evenings and weekends. I worked with some incredibly talented International Chefs at the Hotel Saskatchewan where I was told repeatedly that I had a natural talent for cooking. It didn’t mean much to me at the time.
Upon graduating from high school, I acknowledged my passion for both culinary arts and the hospitality industry and spent most of my time in the kitchen working full-time. Feeling I needed more, I arranged a meeting with the Executive Chef to request approval to work beyond my scheduled hours without pay.
Soon I was working 75-100 hours per week even though I was only being paid for 40. My perspective was that the unpaid time was my investment into my career and professional development. I felt that working 100-hour weeks fulfilled my intense desire to gain knowledge and experience while developing my skill set.
What prepared you for coming to a facility that caters to large crowds?
During my earlier culinary years, I was partial to à la carte fine dining room service. It was the perfect fit with my love of the culinary arts and my creative and artistic side. With more experience, I recognized the opportunity to elevate the banquet experience by introducing fine dining with a creative flare by effectively modifying à la minute culinary procedures.
Computing and processing large numbers have always been incredibly simple for me. This skill has made recipe conversions, production requirements, food cost and other budget allowances rather effortless.
During your time at the convention centre, you were part of our expansion which included the addition of a second kitchen and other features. Any special memories?
It was exciting to design and align the equipment for the new kitchen in the south building. The first event we hosted after the expansion was the Grey Cup Gala dinner where we welcomed over 2230 guests to a reception and sit-down dinner that ended with an amazing firework display outside the windows of our beautiful City View Room. Then of course there was our grand opening reception that was equally exciting as it gave us the opportunity to tour our staff, vendors and partners.
Do you have any memorable moments or career highlights? Celebrities? So many!! We have cooked for and hosted so many celebrities and VIPs over the years but honestly, I’m not the star struck type. Throughout my 43-year culinary/hospitality career, I have been blessed to work with many incredibly talented professionals and have had the privilege to participate in serving millions of guests and friends. These are the real celebrities.
What changes in the food or hospitality industry have you seen over the years?
I have seen so many foodservice trends come and go and have seen some trends reinvented and others re-emerge over the course of time. International trade and global markets have introduced us to a myriad of food products that were not previously available.
The industry has changed so much over the years. Cuisine styles have become more refined and complex, blending of cuisines and fusion cookery has escalated to new heights and the requirement for dietary restrictions has established a real presence. Aside from a vegetarian meal, 40 years ago it was rare to have any guest request a special meal. Flash forward to 2021 — it is not unusual to have 10% of the guaranteed group size indicate a dietary restriction.
I started my career during a time and in an environment when all food was prepared from scratch. Today most operators do not subscribe to scratch cookery because it’s either cost prohibitive or because of a lack of resources. This has prompted more commercially available ready to cook and eat food products.
I’m proud of the Centre’s culinary team which includes a group of highly trained and qualified professionals that subscribe to scratch cookery and quality food preparation using only fresh quality ingredients. Our culinary team takes much pride in using “old school” principles and techniques when preparing food from scratch.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
My mathematically trained mind would have prompted me to pursue either an accounting related career or financial planning
What are you looking forward to the most in your retirement?
The pandemic was a very difficult time for our family so my focus during retirement includes making memories with family and friends. Plus, I plan to continue dabbling in the industry via independent culinary/hospitality consulting.
What is your personal favourite food? What do you like to cook at home for dinner?
I really don’t have a particular food that is my favourite but I do enjoy Mediterranean and French cuisines. Due to my allergies, I avoid bananas and seafood though. Fun fact – all these years as a chef, I have never carried an EpiPen.