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.
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.
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.
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 Christian...in 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.
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.
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.