|During this time, Naylor received a call from some friends who were opening up a hotel/resort north of Ottawa called Chateau Logue. A few requests for advice eventually turned into an offer for the position of executive chef.|
Just before starting, Naylor spent some time learning under chef Trevor Ledlie at The Briars resort, where he honed his administrative skills and learned business basics like handling inventory and cost analysis – all tools required for the new position, which involved managing 20 different menus.
Then, from the ashes of tragedy came another opportunity.
“I went down to Ottawa and had dinner at Domus Café, owned by John Taylor. I was talking to him, and he said there was this job available in Washington. At that time in my life, I was very malleable. I felt like I could move around anywhere,” explains Naylor. “But I didn’t want to give up this executive chef position. I was only 27 years old at the time. I went through the whole rigorous interview process with the Canadian Embassy, and then I came down and got this job. I’ve been there ever since, 14 years now.”
Lays down foundation
Naylor visited Washington and took part in renovating the kitchen and making operational changes, then returned with his equipment, ready to embark on his new opportunity. His first day in the kitchen was September 10, 2001.
“The next day, I was asking ‘Who the hell is Bin Laden?’ I had no idea what was going on, and the ambassador’s wife had come home and said ok, this is what had happened. And then I learned what everything meant,” says Naylor. “You start a job, and then a few weeks later you’re making breakfast for the Prime Minister of Canada. It was off of a hot plate and a Foreman grill for Jean Chrétien. It was a crazy time.”
The culinary lay of the land at the embassy was much different. The ambassador at the time, Michael Kergin, was looking to transition from French cooking to a more Canadian theme. To do this, Naylor had to source ingredients in Canada and have them flown to Washington. Today, small game comes from Quebec, as does venison and caribou; smoked salmon comes from New Brunswick, and other ingredients such as cattail hearts, milkweed pods and Saskatoon berry compote come via Toronto.
On a day-to-day basis, Naylor can be booked for anywhere from two to four events, depending on the season and who is in town. Scheduling and shopping must be done accordingly. He has one support cook in the kitchen who helps with prep work; Naylor does the rest. While some food is vacuum-packed and frozen, he keeps most ingredients fresh and shops locally most days.
While celebrity sightings are not uncommon in Washington, Naylor has had his share of encounters serving memorable guests.
“Meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger, that was kind of funny. I’m a big guy, and he tapped my stomach and said ‘I asked for a six pack, and you brought me a keg!’ So I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘I can’t believe Arnold Schwarzenegger just dissed me!’”
Naylor is now happy to call the D.C. area home and is in the process of moving into a new house with his wife. A brick-and-mortar operation may be in his plans down the road, but for now, Naylor says the embassy is where he wants to be.
According to Naylor, his latest culinary challenges come from his two-and-a-half-year-old son who has become a discriminating client.
“I used to make him all of these meals – he used to eat duck confit, braised lamb, salmon,” says Naylor with a chuckle. “He was only a year-and-a-half, and then right around Christmas time, he turned a corner and said, ‘I don’t want that!’ Now he just wants cheese or turkey sandwiches, and I’m like, ‘Come on, man, I went to all this trouble to make you vegetables!’ But there’s still hope. He’ll come back around.”
About the author
Steven Chester is the editor and social media community manager for Restaurant Central. His 14-year journalism background includes writing and editing for digital and traditional media. He is an expert in social media, online content and email newsletter development. Follow him on Twitter at @restaurantCRFN.