Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We will miss you, Chef Gil Gaitan

A beloved teacher and mentor; Tony's favorite professor at Le Cordon Bleu, Chef Gil Gaitan passed away on Monday at the age of 57.

With sadness yesterday, Tony called with the news and reminisced about how Chef Gaitan was in Caribe recently and he was still as passionate as ever about teaching. Always teaching, and loving what he did. He was always joking, and smiling, almost giddy with excitement like a child when he talked about cooking.

Measuring to make a huge batch of gingerbread

Back in 2003/2004 when Tony was attending school, he learned of Chef Gaitan's interest in food art. Tony brought in some pictures of some artsy pumpkins I had carved & airbrushed to share with Chef, who later invited Tony and I to join him on a weekend in December at the school to make some food art of our own: ginger bread houses from scratch.

Assembling the houses

From what I understand, Chef Gaitan came in every year on his days off to make several houses that he would donate at Christmas time. That particular weekend he taught Tony and I how to make and bake the dough for the walls, how to make pulled sugar flowers and candy canes, the icing for holding it all together, and the meringue snow. He sent me home with copies of recipes and templates and I had a blast finishing my ginger bread houses at home.

Chef showing us how to make candy canes

One of my finished houses at home

I remember upon meeting him, thinking it was generous of him (or maybe a little crazy?!) to take so much of his free time to do this each year, making a dozen plus houses to give to charities. But it didn't take me long to notice he was a how he acted, and later in how he spoke of Bible studies and his church.

Later in the spring and on another occasion, I joined Chef Gaitan on a weekend day to learn how to make Easter eggs out of sugar–the big, hollowed out kind with a sugary scene inside.

Pressing sugar into the moulds

Chef & I discussing airbrush techniques

Airbrushing the sugar eggs

I brought in my airbrush & we exchanged tips and tricks. He showed us how to make roses and lilies out of frosting (he sure made it look easy!) and other techniques of sugar egg creation and assembly that I was as excited to learn, as he was to teach. Though a couple flowers have broken off since then, I still display my egg each year at Easter.

One of the eggs we made

I was blessed to know Chef Gaitan, even if only through a handful of encounters, but also to know him through Tony, who spoke of him all the time while attending school and often over the years since. There's no doubt he was an integral part of shaping Tony's career in cooking. He will be missed. And he will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Visitation is this evening. More info and obituary.


sierra said...

I am Gil's daughter, Sierra. This week we are experiencing the one year anniversary of his passing. I googled his name to see what would come up and I found this blog entry. It blesses me so much to read about how much of an impact he had on others. He was such a great man. Thanks for speaking so kindly of him.

Sierra Gaitan-Hegstrom

Heidi said...

Thanks for the comment, Sierra. We were blessed to know him and will never forget him. May God bless your week as you reflect on his passing. Hugs.

Unknown said...

It has been a few years now and I still think of all the wonderful things he taught me, and the good times we had in the kitchen. He was a great man and is still missed.

Martin Gagné said...

I first met Gil when he and I worked at Maxime's. We were both just kids then.

He was always so devoted to food and to sharing what he had learned. I remember when I had first started there, he was explaining to me how to make the blonde roux for the béchamel sauce we used for cheese soufflés and how specifically particular our chef was in that regard and why.

You should know that he was such a kind and wonderful teacher because he was such a humble and dedicated student.

I was very fortunate to have Gil later become my first Executive Sous Chef at the Wichita Club, a post he held for a couple years. It was during that time that he met his dear wife, Peg, married and had their first child, Sierra - Such a sweet memory!

Not too long after that Gil and his young family moved to the Twin Cities. We lost touch after that as my family and I ended up moving several times during my career, as well.

Later in my life I had "Googled" him to try to find out where he might have ended up only to find that he had passed away a couple of years earlier.

I'm almost 64 years old, now and my wife and I own a little French restaurant outside of Philadelphia. Every time I make the blonde roux for the béchamel sauce that I use for the cheese soufflé, I always think of Gil and what he showed me at Maxime's still after all these many years. It's almost like he's still whispering it in my ear!

Thank you dear friend.

May God bless you for all eternity, Gil and may His abundant blessings smile upon Peg, Sierra and your family.