The only female executive chef of 70 Four Seasons hotels worldwide, Lynn Crawford is blazing her way to the top of the food chain
Digital Journal — When you’re introduced to one of the most talented chefs in Toronto, the last thing you’d expect is to meet a motorcycle-loving woman with tattoos on the palms of her hands. In fact, Lynn Crawford is everything you’d never expect in a head chef of a Four Seasons hotel.
She’s livelier than a Jack Russell terrier, she smiles more than a kid on a Christmas morning, and she could easily be mistaken for a motivational speaker. She’s professional, but also outspoken enough to need bleeps to cover-up the F-bombs dropped on the TV show she hosts.
Born into a Scottish family in Toronto, Crawford grew up with simple comfort food — a far cry from the innovative cuisine she would later create. As a butcher, her father exposed her early to worldly food and wine.
It wasn’t until Crawford started university that she found her calling. Cooking for friends in her apartment after class, she was always looking to create complicated dishes that challenged her.
But when she started cooking professionally, it wasn’t easy, Crawford recalls. The industry was dominated by men, and women were rarely given equal opportunity.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
A popular dish at Four Seasons Toronto is Lynn Crawford's slow-roasted halibut with morelles, fava neans and wild leek glaze.
But the thick-skinned chef was strong enough to overcome those obstacles. After all, she’s used to riding with big boys as a lover of vintage Harley Davidsons. Like a zealous student, she gained culinary prowess by surrounding herself with famous chefs across the U.S.
Then she discovered the Four Seasons. Starting out at the company’s Montreal hotel, she worked at Nevis and Vancouver before settling in New York, where she was executive sous chef under the renowned Susan Weaver.
After working in a city celebrated for world-class cuisine, Crawford returned to Canada in 2002 to become head chef at the company’s Toronto location. Today, she’s the only female executive chef in all 65 Four Seasons properties worldwide.
“If you don’t have passion then it’s just a job,” says Crawford. “That’s the difference between a cook and a chef: A chef never stops thinking about food.”
With 22 years experience, the 42-year-old chef is a frenetic dynamo in the kitchen. Overseeing Four Seasons’ 50 full-time cooks and nine sous chefs, Crawford is responsible for three restaurants, plus room service and banquets. Truffles, the hotel’s signature restaurant, has won the CAA/AAA Five Diamond Award 11 years in a row — the only restaurant in Canada to earn that distinction.
“You have to use the finest ingredients, and you can’t overcomplicate a dish,” she advises. “With the right ingredients, you can create a very strong memory for someone.” To Crawford, “frozen” is the ultimate F-word, since she will do whatever it takes to ensure food is homemade and freshly-prepared.
With an incredible drive for perfection, Crawford creates menus that appeal to any palette — from seared veal tenderloin with cashew butter and pistachio jus to Angus prime steak with Pont Neuf potatoes and peppercorn sauce.
Crawford’s ability to marry ingredients to create culinary masterpieces also earned her a spot as co-host of the popular TV show Restaurant Makeover, which helps struggling restaurants in dire need of transformation.
The show is a perfect fit for Crawford, capturing her greatest talent as a head chef: her ability to inspire new and upcoming chefs. Crawford says she loves seeing another cook find a passion for creating food as a work of art, and her industry doesn’t credit sous chefs and cooks enough.
“Most of the time people don’t think about who is in the back of the kitchen and how much they care about what they do,” she says. “Those people deserve all the credit in the world.”
Crawford carries with her a reminder of that testament. She inked her palms with square labyrinth tattoos in memory of her father — the person who introduced her to the world of cuisine. The tattoos are a reminder that everyone must find their own path in life. In Crawford’s case, it’s something she will forever do with her hands.