Why He’s Top 40: He is using his highly refined culinary techniques to change the way people think about Canadian cuisine, and winning plenty of awards along the way.
If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “The epidemic of chain restaurants. I hate franchises. I can’t stand them. It’s monkeys on f—ing typewriters destroying people’s culinary lives.”
There’s no steak on the menu at Share at The Westin Edmonton. Ryan O’Flynn is scarred from years of roast-beef dinners and leftovers, and believes beef has a low flavour profile.
But, to run a restaurant in Alberta with no steak? That takes cojones. What O’Flynn’s menu does have is Canadian ingredients, from whitefish and bison to mushrooms and grains. He cuts down pine trees to use in his smoker and makes syrup from the nettles. He studied with the Dene people for a week to learn about First Nations cooking techniques.
“Why take a friend for French or Italian, when you can go for Canadian?” he says.
O’Flynn didn’t take a direct route to The Westin. When he graduated from NAIT, he planned to go to Europe for two years.
“I thought, ‘I am going to do all of that, stay there for two years, and I’ll come back and be better than anyone else,'” says O’Flynn. “But I fell in love with Europe. It just took over me, embraced me and I became part of it.”
O’Flynn made serious waves on the European culinary scene. He was head chef at Le Gallois, recognized as Wales’s top restaurant. He worked for Gordon Ramsay. He rose to the rank of executive chef at the Milestone Hotel, located in London’s toney Kensington district.
“I was literally a stone’s throw from 50 Michelin-star restaurants,” he recalls. “I took on the Milestone and it was one of the bigger achievements in my life, being born and raised in Edmonton.”
Michelin’s Yes Chef! magazine did a spread on O’Flynn, calling him “one to watch.” But it didn’t come out until after he made plans to come home.
“When I left, my sister was 14. When I came back, she was married with a kid. I missed a lot.”
This year, his bosses at The Westin Edmonton urged him to enter the Gold Medal Plates competition; he won it with a smoked sturgeon and foie gras terrine. That sent him to the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships, which he won.
“I knew I was going to win. You had Toronto watching Montreal, Montreal watching Vancouver, and they didn’t pay attention to this guy from Edmonton.”
OK, be honest, have you taken your Christmas decorations down, yet?