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Celebrity chef, cooking show host, author, Anthony Sedlak dies at age 29

07/09/2012 09:37 EDT | Updated 09/08/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - Anthony Sedlak was 14 years old, busing tables at a cafe at a mountaintop resort near Vancouver, when he was named employee of the month.

His prize was dinner at the resort's fine dining restaurant — a meal that inspired a love of food that would catapult Sedlak into a renowned chef, TV host and author before his sudden death at the age of 29.

"He said to me, 'I have never eaten in a place like that in my life, where the service was what it was, the food was what it was,' and it just blew him away," Stuart McLaughlin, the president of Grouse Mountain Resorts, recalled in an interview Monday.

"That's when he had made the decision to learn more about this."

Sedlak was found dead Friday in his apartment in North Vancouver, B.C., his family said in a statement Monday. The statement said Sedlak died of an undiagnosed medical condition.

The British Columbia-born chef was best known as the young, energetic host of the Food Network television show "The Main," a gig he landed after winning the network's "Superstar Chef Challenge." He eventually became the best-selling author of a cookbook named after his TV show.

Sedlak was born in Prince George, B.C., and grew up in North Vancouver, where he landed a job at Grouse Mountain at the age of 13. He would later recall that he only took the job because he wanted a season's pass to snowboard on the mountain.

After his fateful employee-of-the-month win, Sedlak moved into the cafe's kitchen doing grunt work. By 16, he was working as a cook in the kitchen of the fine dining restaurant that had captivated him just two years earlier.

"He had now accomplished what he had set out to from that dinner he had — he was now preparing food for the venue that inspired him," said McLaughlin.

"It was pretty clear, early on, that this kid had talent."

Sedlak quickly became a rising star not just on Grouse Mountain, but in the Canadian culinary scene. He spent two years in London at the La Trompette in the city's west end before going back to the Grouse Mountain restaurant as a sous-chef, where he began collecting awards for his work.

When he was 23, he represented Canada at the World Junior Chef Challenge in Auckland, New Zealand, where he won a silver medal.

Soon after that, he left that kitchen in North Vancouver to impress the judges on "Superstar Chef Challenge," where his win kick-started a four-year run as host of "The Main."

Each episode of "The Main" revolved around an ingredient that was easy to find at the grocery store, and featured Sedlak — full of energy as he punctuated his explanations with his hands — walking viewers through recipes that ranged from complex Middle Eastern feasts to a grilled cheese sandwich.

Sedlak's cookbook, also called "The Main," was released in 2008. It became a Canadian bestseller.

His next television project was as a judge on the Food Network's "Family Cook Off," a cooking competition that pitted families against each other.

Trish Magwood, one of Sedlak's fellow judges on "Family Cook Off," said she first encountered him the day before they began filming last summer

Magwood said she expected to be met by the baby faced host from "The Main."

"When he shot 'The Main,' we would joke that he was 12 when he did it — they had him in a cardigan," said Magwood.

"When he showed up on 'Family Cook Off' wearing a T-shirt and covered in tattoos, we were like, 'Where's the cardigan?' I think he grew up and definitely matured."

Magwood said Sedlak had an "infectious personality," but beneath that was an innovative, skilled chef who loved the craft.

"He was on the edge of some great stuff," she said. "His work was great."

Earlier this year, Sedlak co-founded the American Cheesesteak Co., a restaurant in Vancouver specializing in the iconic Philadelphia sandwich.

For the past three months, Sedlak has been working with Toronto's Don Valley Hotel as it overhauls its restaurant and menu.

Kevin Porter, the Don Valley Hotel's general manager, said he came to call Sedlak a friend during their work together.

"He's a beautiful spirit, just a really, really warm guy," said Porter.

"He draws people into him, he has that as a gift. He had so much passion for his industry."

Porter said Sedlak's work at the Don Valley was almost complete.

"We will trudge forward and make sure that his vision and legacy lives on."

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