With leaders, you get a sense of their true character when you observe them interacting with the people they supervise. Walking into Jonathan Gushue's kitchen, I was struck by the laughter. Restaurant kitchens tend to be cacophonous caverns full of metal clangs and sizzle. Very few chefs, especially in Canada, are Gordon Ramsay mean, but the atmosphere during service more often tends toward serious than jovial.
At Langdon Hall, arguably the most sophisticated dining establishment in the nation, the kitchen sounded like a dinner party in Newfoundland. It was during a busy lunch service in March 2012 that I first entered Gushue's work space. Gushue is as decorated a chef as there is in Canada but that doesn't faze his team, who joked about his Newfoundland tendency to devour peameal and bacon in the morning and his affection for cod tongue. A massive cut of venison was being primed for that night's special and the team joked that it was the Langdon Hall mascot in their hands (some of the property's logos feature an image of a deer).
I expected stiffness from the kitchen and got jokes and chuckles, even while perfect plate after perfect plate -- some of them finished off by Gushue -- were hustled out to diners. I remember thinking, all kitchens should be this fun and professional.
Later that night, Gushue and his team continued their revelry and their appetite for making great Canadian food with a chef's table menu topped off with a centre cut of that venison.
Gushue had been at the Cambridge, Ontario property since 7 a.m. that day and didn't leave until midnight. It was a routine day for the executive chef and father of three. If he was tired, you wouldn't know it. Passion drives you, and few chefs I have ever met are as passionate about food as Langdon Hall's leader. He raves about the carefully maintained gardens at the Relais & Chateaux property, noting in amazement that grapes grow around the exterior and that he can make a menu from the root vegetables and mushrooms found within a quarter-mile of the main building that dates to 1898. Having cooked at the Four Seasons and in major cities around the world, he has embraced the Mennonite heritage in southwestern Ontario, working daily on his goal of delivering "a sense of place" to his patrons.
Gushue is clearly proud of Langdon Hall's accomplishments and accolades, including its two-time placement in the San Pellegrino World's 100 Best Restaurants list and 5-Diamond CAA/AAA status. Vacay.ca judges also named it the No. 2 restaurant in the nation in its 2012 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.
News that Gushue, 41, has been missing since December 31, 2012 is worrisome for anyone who's enjoyed his food, his dedication to Canadian cuisine or his affable spirit.
Police in Waterloo Region issued a missing person's report for Gushue on Sunday. He was last seen on December 29, after dinner with a friend in Toronto. He reportedly checked into the Park Hyatt Hotel in Yorkville and checked out on December 31. He was supposed to oversee an elaborate New Year's Eve menu at Langdon Hall but did not show up for work. A family friend retrieved his cellphone -- which had gone unanswered for days -- from the Park Hyatt's front desk, where it had been stored, and returned it to this wife. There is no report yet about the whereabouts of his BMW, which he drove to Toronto.
Gushue has elevated Canadian cuisine as much as any other chef in the country. Vacay.ca is eager to learn of his safe and healthy return. Our thoughts are with him, his family and everyone at Langdon Hall.
Anyone with information on Gushue's whereabouts is asked to call Waterloo Regional Police at 519-650-8500 ext. 2299.
To read more of this article and see a video of Gushue talking about Langdon Hall and his career, click here to visit Vacay.ca.