Le Cordon Bleu exec chef Yannick Anton honoured for promoting French culture in Canada

Le Cordon Bleu exec chef Yannick Anton was awarded France’s L'Ordre du mérite agricole at the French embassy on Thursday. (Supplied)
Le Cordon Bleu exec chef Yannick Anton was awarded France’s L'Ordre du mérite agricole at the French embassy on Thursday. (Supplied)

Ottawa chef Yannick Anton’s career has taken him from Michelin-starred restaurants in the south of France to state dinners for world leaders to Ottawa’s own culinary school Le Cordon Bleu. 

Now, he’s been recognized with a prestigious award for his decades of work. 

On Thursday at the French embassy, Anton was awarded France’s L’Ordre du mérite agricole, the highest civilian honour. The award recognizes his contribution to promoting French culture in Ottawa and across Canada through his work as a chef and culinary instructor. 

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“I’m very, very excited,” Anton told OBJ. “It was quite a surprise. I opened my email and I had a message from the French embassy, saying congratulations. I was like, oh, what’s going on? It’s amazing. It’s a huge recognition from the French government for all the work we do abroad to promote the French culinary industry. It basically represents my career. It’s not just about what you do, but what you’ve done. It makes you think you’ve done something right.”

Anton said he was one of the lucky ones who knew exactly what he wanted to do from a very young age. 

Born and raised in Nice in the south of France, he developed a love for cooking from his grandparents and a family friend who was a chef. From the beginning, he was intrigued by flavour and technique. 

“Looking at my grandma’s cooking, she was making some simple dish, but I was always in the kitchen looking at what she was doing,” he said. “I always found joy in eating and enjoying foods. That’s the number-one priority.”

In school, as part of the practical curriculum, he started learning the basics of cooking. He was taught how to make simple dishes, bringing his recipes home to test on his parents. 

“I don’t know if they were very lucky,” he said, laughing. “But from age 11, I had no doubt in my brain about where I was going to go.”

As a teenager, he attended a culinary school in his hometown, where he trained for two years. Then it was time to jump feet first into the wider culinary world. 

Anton began his career under Chef Michel Devillers at Les Dents de la Mer, a highly respected restaurant in Nice, where he said he worked to perfect his skills in seafood preparation while learning advanced culinary techniques. He went on to work in the L’Orangeraie region and at La Palme D’Or, a Michelin two-star restaurant within the Hotel Martinez in Cannes.

Then, in 1994, he came to Canada for the first time. He first worked in Montreal as a sous-chef to Chef Martin Picard at Globe restaurant. 

Working under highly regarded chefs, he said, was key to not only refining his skills, but learning the discipline necessary to succeed. It’s those skills that he now passes on to students. 

“What I try to explain to students is that you are to develop yourself in terms of efficiency, in terms of attitude, in terms of organization and attention to detail,” he said. “If you start to let things go … you accept a lot of things. You lower your standards. That’s what makes the difference between a high-end restaurant and a regular restaurant and a poor restaurant. We never let go. You always need to have an eye for perfection to make sure you serve the best as you can.”

Anton first came to the Ottawa area to assist with the opening of Le Baccara. Then, in 2003, he worked at The Westin with executive chef Phillippe Wettel and at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, now Global Affairs Canada. 

Over the years, he’s travelled the world. He worked at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc at the Cap D’Antibes, took part in the world gourmet summit in Singapore in 2007, helped with events for the James Beard foundation in New York, and designed menus for Voyager cruise lines. He has also prepared state dinners for world leaders from Mexico, China and the United States. 

As much as he enjoyed his international adventures, he always found himself returning to Ottawa. 

Near the end of 2006, he joined Signatures Restaurants at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa and was appointed executive chef. He is also a chef instructor, specializing in contemporary cuisine.

He said teaching has become one of the most fulfilling aspects of his career. 

“That’s the meaning of life,” he said. “We need to pass on knowledge. If I’m not passing it on, there is no purpose. We pass it on to the new generation and they will adapt it in their own way in their own time. We should not forget where these techniques come from, why we do them, and all these stories. I’ve been fortunate to have some very amazing chefs who have taught me and I try to pass that on.”

Ottawa on the rise as a culinary destination

When Anton first arrived in Ottawa in the 1990s, he said there were very few high-end restaurants around the city. But over the past three decades, he said that’s changed drastically. 

“What I’ve been very happy to see about Ottawa is all the young chefs who try to open a restaurant and try to start to actually put Ottawa on the map as a culinary destination,” he said. “At the beginning, people were saying the best thing about Ottawa was that it was two hours from Montreal.”

But he said the reputation of the local culinary industry and its chefs is now on the rise. Local chefs, including himself, have gone on to win international awards, giving the city a good name. 

Anton said he’s also seen a great improvement in the quality of produce in the region. 

“I had two very iconic Michelin-star chefs from France who came here and they were super impressed with the produce we use,” he said. “The chefs really put a lot of effort into promoting local products. The farmers all around Ottawa are producing beautiful produce. Now there’s no need to buy from anywhere else. The local farmers are so amazing.”

As Anton celebrates his award from the French embassy, he said he looks forward to continuing to contribute to the growth of the local culinary scene. At the same time, he is also looking back on his career with gratitude. 

“It makes me think of all my mentors,” he said. “I’m not where I am without them. They brought me their knowledge, they transmitted their techniques, their way of doing things, and I wouldn’t be here without them. I feel huge respect and I say thank you to the chefs who crossed my path.”

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