With a father who was a chef and the manager of Culinary Team Canada in the ‘90’s, Chef Ryan O’Flynn was destined to become a chef too. O’Flynn says, “He introduced me to the culinary world at a very young age. He became a judge of junior Culinary Olympic teams and he used to take me with him when he traveled. I got to watch and I got to hang out with the chefs.”
Canada's Chefs in Conversation: Ryan O'Flynn, The Guild, Calgary AB
The Guild's executive chef Ryan O'Flynn combines a deep respect for top notch Albertan ingredients with a technique driven approach to create finely executed, seasonal dishes.
Chef Ryan O'Flynn (L) with Michael Bonacini (R)
When he got older, his father helped get him his first kitchen job washing dishes at Hy's Steak Loft in Edmonton. He says, “I washed dishes there for 2 1/2 years so I could be considered for a blue book to get my apprenticeship and once I had enough hours I went to the Crowne Plaza in Edmonton (now Chateau Lacombe) and started the first year of my apprenticeship there.”
Each chef he’s worked with and experience that he’s had has taught O’Flynn something. He says, “I’m privileged to be a part of a great industry. It’s afforded me the ability to travel and experience a lot of different cultures. I’ve learned from many great chefs, from both their good and their bad traits. You can work for an amazing chef with an amazing skill set but if his or her people skills are not up to scratch, you learn from those faults.”
There’s palpable excitement in O’Flynn’s voice when he talks about being the executive chef of The Guild, which is an Oliver and Bonacini project. He says, “It’s an absolutely amazing place. We live up to the essence of the word ‘guild’ and what it means. It’s about tradition, heritage and history. It’s probably the most anti-hipster restaurant there is because it’s so legitimate. There’s nothing flash in the pan about it. Everything is just pure technique.”
The chef adds, “We’re re-imagining ancient dishes for a modern palate. We’re cooking over live fuels like birch and apple wood. We’re making everything in house down to making our own bacon. We age the beef we get from Beretta Family Farms and break it down ourselves. Our food comes down to smoke, time and aging. You can't rush these things."
Steak Tartare with roasted bone marrow, textures of yolk, shallot rings
When it comes to his culinary team at the new restaurant, O’Flynn has extremely high standards. He explains, “I need to be really careful about who I hire. Each cook and each section, right down to the person washing pots, has to be perfect because it’s an open kitchen. It’s all about craft."
His new working environment is unique for O’Flynn. He points out, “It makes me proud to be a chef at a restaurant that demands that you use the very best ingredients that your terroir has to offer. If any chefs are reading this, they’ll know that in other places, your boss will ask you if it’s necessary to spend the kind of money that it takes to get heirloom carrots or AAA Prime beef but here if I don’t get those things, I’m not doing my job!“
The Guild’s menu development process was an intense experience for the chef. O’Flynn says, “I was in Toronto for six months doing tastings. I was with our culinary stylist Paul Brans every day, I was with Chef Anthony Walsh almost every day and on the other side I worked with Michael Bonacini. We were tasting up to 15 dishes a day for those six months. I’ve never seen a company investing in their chef so seriously and laying out that type of capital just to get this menu to where it’s supposed to be and get it right.”
O’Flynn also places a strong emphasis on locally sourced, ethically raised ingredients that showcase what Alberta’s producers have to offer. He uses the example of the beef they’ve sourced for the restaurant and says, “Our beef is exclusively from Beretta Family Farms because we believe they have the right ethos. Their cows are raised without hormones or steroids, they have a natural life in a cow paradise. The cows get 500 very good days and one bad day but even that bad day is very humane. It means that there’s respect for the animal in every part of the process from grass roots all the way to the end.”
Charcoaled Rainbow Trout: local trout, Rocky Mountain boar sausage stuffing, smoked boar bacon
When it comes his culinary team, O’Flynn explains, “You need to have respect for the team and the ingredients that we’re using. You need to be dedicated to the craft, you need to be humble and you need to want to succeed and exceed expectations.”
As the executive chef, O’Flynn says, “My role is to be a motivator, an organizer and even a mentor at times. I really want people to be proud of where they work and be proud to work with me.”
He adds, “I’m proud of all of the cooks and junior chefs who have worked for me while opening The Guild. I respect every single one of them so I hope the feeling’s mutual because that’s how we roll.”
Inspiration and motivation come from many sources for O’Flynn. He says, “If you put me into a new environment with a new terroir, it’ll take me a month or two to figure out what’s going on and then I’ll just start cooking like I always do by looking for what’s around and in season. I change it up all the time. I don’t like to be stagnant! I’m also inspired by the people and culture around me. As long as those things are around, I’ll keep on cooking.”
Crown of Innisfail Lamb: whole roast rack of lamb, sweetbread fricassee,silky mashed potato, samphire
This interview with Ryan O'Flynn was conducted and recorded on July 15, 2016.