Creativity. Adaptability. Passion. Grit.
These qualities are essential for any top chef but are also needed by top chefs during a global pandemic. Calgary Academy Alumnus Sean Thornhill (’09) lives these qualities, and has spent the last year adapting, adjusting, and re-adapting to the ever-changing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The path to his current role as Sous Chef at Rouge Restaurant has been anything but straight forward. Despite a resume that reads like a wish list for fine dining in Calgary (Q Haute Cuisine, Teatro Ristorante, and the Fairmont Palliser), his path to second-in-command at one of Calgary’s top restaurants has been a crooked line, repeatedly thwarted by COVID-19.
Having just accepted a dream job when the pandemic shut down restaurants in March of last year, Sean found himself like many other out of work professionals in the hospitality industry – wondering what was next, and for how long.
So, the chef turned into an entrepreneur, and Sean established Evoke Catering. While restaurants were closed, private, in-home catering and cooking lessons were a creative, safe alternative, and the people of Calgary were hungry for fun, safe, fine dining.
“The more events I did, the more people wanted to get involved. It started with a baby shower and grew all summer. Things were going really well until November, when in-home gatherings were restricted in response to soaring case numbers.”
Undeterred, he quickly pivoted to smaller cohort dinners, patio dining, and online cooking classes. Nearing the holiday season, and knowing holiday parties wouldn’t be happening, he decided to reach out to Calgary Academy to see if he could make someone else’s day.
“After speaking with a friend who was new to teaching, it hit home for me that it wasn’t just doctors and nurses having challenging times managing an environment where they are responsible for other people’s safety.”
One quick email to school Principal Timothy Carlson, and suddenly Sean was producing individually wrapped artisan chocolates as part of a holiday gift to staff arranged by the school.
“A large part of my childhood involved CA, and I remember learning to think in abstract, solution-oriented ways. That’s definitely helped me bend my business to the current situation. I can’t offer in-home dining during the busiest time of year? Okay, then what else is there? For me, this was the perfect place to put my time and energy, to make one day of the month brighter for others.”
Not surprisingly, Sean’s persistence has won out. In the spring of 2021, Rouge Restaurant called him about the role of Sous Chef, and he’s been cooking up a storm there ever since – even though they are already back to take-out and patio-only dining.
The Calgary Academy community is so proud of all you’ve accomplished Sean, and thank you again for the delicious chocolates!