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All Chefs

Quentin Harty – RBC Convention Centre

At the RBC Convention Centre, serving hundreds of identical, impeccable plates is all in a day’s work.

Crowd Pleasing

By Joelle Kidd

Clad in spick-and-span chefs’ whites and a towering toque blanche, chef Quentin Harty cuts an impressive figure. Kind, friendly, and professional, this executive chef wears decades of cooking experience on his sleeve. He knows the importance of good management.

His style, he says, is firm but fair. “There’s no room for error.”
Indeed, when hundreds, even thousands, of plates are leaving the kitchen under his supervision, Harty must be sure his crack team is operating at full capacity.

In this era of the celebrity chef, open kitchens, and hole-in-the-wall hotspots, documentaries and reality TV have spun the image of a chef as a passionate perfectionist, spending minutes agonizing, tweezer in hand, over the placement of a pea shoot. But there is another side to the life of a chef, one that requires just as much obsession with details: the role of supreme administrator. Each component on the plate needs to get there with perfect timing and proper execution. Dish after dish must be created consistently and flawlessly.

With two industrial kitchens plating up thousands of dishes at a time, the RBC Convention Centre relies on organized efficiency.

The Winnipeg Convention Centre (as it was then called) opened in 1975. The first purpose-built centre of its kind in the country, it was imagined as a revitalizing force for the city’s downtown. More than 30 years of growth later, the centre has undergone a massive expansion which nearly doubled the building in size, with a gorgeous glass façade sprawling over York Avenue linking the old with the new.

For chef Quentin, all this change meant the chance to design a dream kitchen in the new build. The Convention Centre has always been known for its sumptuous gala meals, and a second kitchen meant the capability to cater larger functions, and accommodate kosher events. The south building kitchen gleams with state of the art appliances, all with quick detaching gas connections and wheels for easy transportation and cleaning. Super-sized vats for sauces and soups sit across from a wall lined with walk-in ovens, each capable of holding 2,800 dishes on rotating shelves that ensure even cooking.
High capacity equipment is necessary to meet the demands of catering so many large events. Annually, the Convention Centre pours 1,300,000 cups of coffee, serves 100,000 chicken breasts and 70,000 beef steaks, and goes through 90,000 pounds of potatoes, 25,000 pounds of carrots and 11,000 pounds of onions.

Harty always knew he was destined for the kitchen. Like many chefs, he learned his passion from his family, growing up cooking with his mother and two older sisters. At fourteen, he began working as a dishwasher at a hotel, but was soon lured out of the dish pit and into the kitchen.

This was the beginning of a career in which, other than a few years spent in a small restaurant, Harty found himself behind the scenes in the hotel industry and at large properties. Drawn to the challenge of these large-scale operations, the seasoned chef enjoys the impact of cooking for a crowd. “Whatever you can serve one person, you can deliver to hundreds.”

September marked chef Quentin’s 21st year at the Convention Centre. His role as executive chef involves menu prep, purchasing, building relationships with suppliers, quality control, meeting with clients, and managing staff—a growing number which hovers around 85-90 in the culinary department. While making sure day to day operations are running smoothly (including the Centre Place Cafe, which features full lunch entrées and changing daily specials), developing custom menus and executing gala events are commonplace tasks.

For the upcoming New Year’s Eve banquet (selections from the menu of which are found on these pages), dinner for 1,000 will be in the hands of about 49 kitchen staff. Behind the scenes, the sleek stainless steel space becomes a buzzing hive of activity as assembly lines of cooks chop, stir, sauté, and simmer.

Each plate contains several elements which may be cooked and served at different temperatures and times. Side dishes are prepped in the kitchen and sent in giant rolling food warmers to service pantries, where they are plated and sauced. Mains, like beef tenderloin, need to be prepared moments before guests dig in, and are cut and plated immediately before service.

Despite its size, attention to detail makes the Convention Centre’s meals outstanding. Vegetarians dining at an event don’t end up with a plate of side dishes, but with their own specially crafted entrée. Harty takes care to source quality ingredients, knowing that fresh food translates into flavour on the plate. “It’s not just about pleasing the client,” says Harty. “It’s about pleasing every single attendee.”

With so many responsibilities, chef Quentin has a lot on his plate. But he sees his role simply as delivering an exceptional experience. Whether serving one diner or 1,000, it’s all about the taste.