|Retrospective From Former Culinary Olympian|
|Written by Adrian Bell|
|Thursday, 02 August 2012 00:00|
Nick Schweizer has enjoyed an enviable culinary career. The 88-year old former chef emigrated to Canada in 1954 from Austria where he cooked for displaced persons. His first Canadian gig, at Toronto’s Old Mill, paid “$35 a week,” laughs Schweizer.
In 1956 Schweizer’s career gained momentum at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto. A refuge for the rich and royal, it’s where Schweizer re-invented food-sculpture by substituting lamb’s fat for butter. “I developed the system by accident,” recalls Schweizer. “In the [hotel] butcher shop I saw six lambs.” Eyeing the bright white fat on the carcasses, Schweizer was on to something good. A talented hobby-artist, the chef started shaping the lamb suet. “At the time, President Kennedy had just died so I started [moulding] his face,” says the former member of Canada’s Olympic Team (’72 to ’82). His sculpture — a bust of JFK — caught the eye of one of the managers of CP hotels, who told Schweizer what he thought. “I was shaking,” recalls Schweizer, “I thought I did something wrong ... but he said, ‘Nick, do what you do. You’re not only selling food, you’re entertaining the guests.’ From there, I made [busts of] Kennedy and Churchill and [competed] in the Olympics.” During the mid- ’70s, the team earned 40 gold medals.
Among Schweizer’s many highlights, he cooked for the Queen. “She was staying at Eaton cottage — the Mounties picked us up and brought us home at night,” he remembers. But what happened next, every chef dreads. “We made chicken à la king with black truffle and two pieces of toast on the side. Well the butler said, ‘the Queen wants it with rice.’ And we had no rice,” recalls Schweizer. “I thought ‘what are we going to do now?’ Schweizer enlisted the help of the security team, who phoned for a helicopter, and voilà, the rice arrived.
With a career spanning more than 40 years, Schweizer has enjoyed unending praise for his inventiveness, hard work and creativity — not to mention a string of gold medals, culinary appointments, and even an appearance on “To Tell the Truth,” a popular game show. He also received a gold-engraved wallet from Queen Elizabeth herself. Today, he spends his days doing light carpentry and gardening and enjoys life, despite being a diabetic. His passion for the culinary arts remains unabated. “I like food, but if someone says ‘what are you cooking now?’ ... I say, ‘my wife’s cooking!’”
photo courtesy of Adrian Bell