Chef Robert Pietrantonio 1963-2007
Shortly after this past Christmas, I was quite shocked to receive an email from my old culinary school informing me that my teacher had passed away on Christmas morning. I couldn’t believe it, as he was still a very active cooking professor in his early forties and full of life. I was saddened, but it didn't seem to sink in right away; however, for the rest of the week I reflected back to my school days more than usual.
Not long ago was the memorial for him at my school, which regrettably, I couldn’t attend. Days later, I was still struggling with the fact that I wouldn’t get a proper chance to pay my respects, when an email popped into my inbox from a former classmate who did make the memorial and was filling me in on some details. He told me that they had found a letter a few of the students and I had written my teacher upon graduation in his personal effects at school, and that they read it out loud at the memorial.
I was stunned. He had kept it all this time.
The sun was streaming in through the window; Noah was playing happily on the floor, yet suddenly when I read this, it hit me, and I found myself weeping.
I cried because he was gone and I couldn’t say goodbye or thank you. I cried because he had been a huge encouragement and a mentor to little, inexperienced me, and I never repaid him in any way. I cried because I had lost touch almost immediately after graduating, even though I knew our friendship was special to him, and because his last words as I was leaving school were:
“Ah, you’re going off to Toque! You’re going to do something great with yourself and your going to forget about us and this place. You won’t come back and visit; you’ll be to busy.”
I told him of course I wouldn’t forget and that I would keep in touch and be back to visit and tell funny stories from the various kitchens I worked in and the crazy chefs that ran them.
But he was right. I didn’t. Not once.
How did I get so wrapped up in my busy life that I forgot those who pointed me in this direction in the first place? Robert Pietrantonio was the one who really pushed me to do my internship at Toque!, which lead to a job offer, which lead to a career and opened a lot of doors. He also submitted my name as a candidate for a Lieutenant Governors Award, which I later received in 2001 for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement.
Well, I could argue that it was some of the busiest years of my life: working up the ladder in Montreal’s fine dining scene, moving across town, getting engaged, planning a wedding and getting married, having a baby; yet.....I probably could have made time to visit my old school at least once. It's definitely got me thinking about people you encounter along the way down the path of life; people who help bushwack that path and give you some advice or words of encouragement as you go.
It's definitely got me thinking about people you encounter along the way down the path of life; people who help bushwack that path and give you some advice or words of encouragement as you go.
I've been blessed to have crossed paths with many wonderful people who have been mentors to me.
Chef Robert was one of them.