Corporate Chef/Partner, Wildflower Grill, Lazia, East
Hair and makeup by Amber Prepchuk
Photography by Curtis Comeau
WHY HE'S TOP 40: For pushing the city’s culinary boundaries, while at the same time making kitchens places for equal opportunities.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT EDMONTON?: “What I like about Edmonton is that it’s not too big, not too small. This seems to be a place that has lots of opportunities, and it’s a city on the move.”
Nathin Bye wipes a tear from his eye when he thinks back to the times when he was the victim of harrassment in the workplace. There were times he was called out for being a “fag.” He says there were times he was physically abused in kitchens.
“The kitchen is a male place, a heterosexual male place. It’s a sexually dominating place,” he says. Historically, it’s true. Remember that, in France, a chef would leave a kitchen behind to his son, and then the grandson would take over. It was a male rite of succession. In North America, chefs are often seen as party hounds, chasing hostesses after the restaurants close, and drinking heavily.
But, as a gay man trying to make it in a straight man’s world, Bye never lost his love for cooking. At 15, he got his a job as a dishwasher at Earls Whitemud Crossing and, right then, Bye knew cooking was his calling. He turned down a chance to go to law school so he could go to NAIT, where he was member of that school’s culinary team for five years.
“I have a deep passion for this business. I love this business. I love everything about it. I love the rush. I love the adrenaline.”
At 26, he was given the chance to take over as corporate chef for the Lazia group. He was given the Wildflower Grill, as his to build from the ground up. It is now the jewel of the chain. And every night, he feels thrills when he sees a customer enjoying a dish — the joy of making someone happy through food never gets old.
Not only is Wildflower seen as one of Edmonton’s best restaurants, Bye has twice won the Gold Medal Plates competition, which sees the country’s top chefs face off against each other, with proceeds going to the Olympic program.
And Bye is bullish about Edmonton’s food scene.
“We were doing the 100-mile diet before it became trendy, because so many of the chefs here come from farm backgrounds. We are doing unique culinary things here.”
But it’s not just about the food — Bye’s vision includes a kitchen that’s inclusive to minorities and women. He wants to break the old-white-man model.
“It’s not just about gay chefs; where are the female chefs? My kitchens have people born in other countries. There are women. I want diversity and equal opportunity.”
He also is a culinary sponsor for Camp fYrefly, a retreat for sexual-minority youth. Wildflower is also working with Alberta Ballet, hosting fundraisers with dishes and décor based on shows from this season’s program.