The Proust Culinary Questionnaire

In the late nineteenth century, French novelist Marcel Proust participated in an exercise which could be thought of as the Facebook of its era — he answered a questionnaire about himself in a friend’s Confession Album.

Proust’s answers have been published, in one form or another, for more than a century. Many have used the questionnaire for their own devices, the most notable being Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire featuring celebrities. The Tomato now gives it a culinary twist.

Ryan O’Flynn has an impressive resume. Years cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe; a stage in Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen where cooks with less grit left halfway through service (often leaving expensive knives behind, they were in such a hurry to get away); exec chef of an important kitchen at 29 years old, the accolades go on and on.

Were we surprised when he popped up as exec chef at the Westin? Perhaps, but thrilled to suggest that he might want to consider competing at Gold Medal Plates. Perhaps competing is in his blood — his father Maurice O’Flynn was the guiding force behind the culinary teams that brought Canada to international prominence a few decades ago.

Ryan is a chef to watch. This friendly, down to earth, hard-working chef has a vision of quality and we fully expect his contribution to have a lasting effect on our culinary scene.

Ryan O’Flynn, executive chef Westin Edmonton and 2014 Gold Medal Plates gold medalist

Ryan O’Flynn, executive chef Westin Edmonton and 2014 Gold Medal Plates gold medalist

Hometown?
Edmonton.

Years cooking?
12-14.

Where would you like to live?
Barcelona is the perfect city — food, wine, culture, people. The smell, the feel, the nightlife, the architecture and the siestas.

Your favourite food and drink?
I’ll drink anything Romanee Conti. I don’t want to eat anything out of season or anything from Monsanto.

What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?
Eating.

What do you most appreciate in your friends?
A good sense of humour, honesty.

Your favourite qualities in a dish?
Getting it right.

A cook?
Dedication.

A wine?
If I’m eating, I like a wine with a good balance of tannins. If it’s just to enjoy, a wine with lower alcohol and a great nose.

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?
I’d like to eat by myself.

Who would cook?
Gordon Ramsay app, Heston Blumenthal main course, Jordi Roca (El Cellar de Can Roca) for a crazy dessert.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
The f word from being in the kitchen my whole life. Did you season that? Do it right or do it twice. No you can’t leave early.

Current culinary obsession/ exploration?
Figuring out what we can do here at the Westin that keeps me both passionate and successful.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?
I had a bit of savings and went on a three-month eating tour of Michelin star restaurants — in Dubai, Wales and London, France, Monaco, St Jean, Cap Ferrat, Italy, probably 150-200 stars in all. In some I was able to work in the kitchen for a few days in exchange for dinner. These are 18 hour days — the dedication of the European chef is amazing. It was the best culinary experience so far in my life. I finished it off in Mexico and Cuba, rented a scooter in Havana. One place had only sous vide in the back, didn’t expect that. The food was classic dishes, nothing pretentious, just really, really good.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?
Becoming the executive chef at the Milestone, a five star hotel, and flagship of the group. We took it from one Rosette* to three Rosettes. I was 29 years old.

Mentors?
My Dad.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/afterwork food?
A pint of Guinness.

Philosophy?
You can’t have a great restaurant without great fundamentals — produce, meats and passion.

What’s next?
We’re bringing the quality of the banquets at the hotel up to restaurant standard, starting from scratch. The biggest transition is 80 per cent of our offerings are made in house, even ice cream, compared to about 60 per cent previously. Meats are aged, fowl are brine-cured and fish comes in fresh and whole. We’re getting beautiful East Coast cod and pickerel from the northern lakes as long as my arm. We’re serving things like confit duck leg and frisee lardon salad to 1,000 people. It’s a real transition in quality.

* The AA Rosette program is similar to the CAA Five Diamond Awards, highly coveted awards for a dining room experience in a hotel.