Chef Dustin GardnerFoodbuy met with Dustin Gardner, Chef de Cuisine, at the Pantages Hotel Toronto to learn more about his views of the hospitality industry. Pantages is nestled in the centre of the city’s theatre district and Stages Restaurant & Lounge, a moderate but chic space, is conveniently located in the hotel lobby. While the restaurant offers solace for the weary traveler or adds that social element for theatregoers, foodservice at the boutique-style hotel focusses on intimate gatherings, meetings, and events.

Starting at the early age of 18, Chef Gardner became interested in the foodservice industry beginning his career as a dishwasher, working his way up to prep cook, and inevitably managing his own kitchen. Gardner explains he was attending school in Windsor for visual arts and was looking for a job when he became friends with a chef who needed a dishwasher. Gardner accepted the position where he learned a tremendous amount about cooking and the hospitality industry. Gardner fell in love with the magic of cooking and all the wonders a kitchen has to offer. This was an outlet which would allow him to express himself, a box that needed to be checked before embarking on his career path. And so began his journey.

Ten years later, we find Gardner working as a successful chef in Toronto, Ontario, earning a respected reputation in the industry. Gardner is known for revering the integrity of ingredients and his dynamic menus. He keeps dishes simple while inventive using fresh, local, and sustainable produce and proteins. Taking tacos to the next level, Gardner recently served the dish featuring beef hearts. Looking back on his experiences, he reflects on what his time with food has meant to him,

“Cooking has taught me about people. Lots of very interesting people with stories and knowledge to share. I find this to be one of the most valuable things in my life.”

The pandemic changed the hospitality industry drastically. Employees are still hard to find, food is more expensive, and it’s harder to source quality ingredients. Here, the unassuming chef has the advantage of falling back on his humble beginning to help overcome these obstacles. Chef Gardner built his career starting with meagre means and resources while maintaining high culinary standards and repeatedly surpassing expectations. Pre-COVID, budget was already top of mind with this chef.

With the support of Silver Hotel Group (SHG) and Kevin Slean, General Manager at Pantages Hotel Toronto, Chef Gardner is able to experiment, inspire, and deliver incredible meals influenced by international flavours. SHG is a hotel management company specializing in all areas of hotel management – including operations, sales, marketing, revenue management, acquisitions, and development. They are also a Foodbuy partner whose programs and services support their foodservice procurement needs. Working with organizations like SHG and Foodbuy has allowed the Pantages to save on operational costs and staff’s time, enabling Gardner to concentrate on his passion for developing exceptional flavours to satisfy guests.

When asked how else working with SHG has benefited the Pantages’ team, we were told workers were afforded the opportunity to give back to the community through a corporate social responsibility program run by SHG called Silver Lining. Through this program, employees across the organization can make donations, whether it be their time volunteering or monetary, to various charities and organizations that they have a personal interest in. This makes contributions more meaningful and touches the lives of a variety of groups in need.

At the end of our conversation, Chef Gardner reveals his aspirations to keep advancing in the foodservice business and eventually settling down with his own restaurant or food truck. He leaves us on this motivated note,

“I find that this industry never fails to challenge and stimulate my desire to know more and have to say it’s the ability to constantly be creative that keeps me coming back for more.”

Hosting numerous memorable banquets and functions, Chef Gardner continues to increase event reservations and clientele at the Pantages, a post-modern building designed by Moshe Safdie, just steps away from Massey Hall and the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

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