*Chef Victor Barry is now the owner and Executive Chef of Piano Piano, formerly Splendido, located at 88 Harbord Street.

For a decade, Chef Victor Barry has been working in the kitchen of Splendido, helping to create dishes that have been ranked among Toronto’s best. Joining the celebrated establishment in a junior role, he quickly worked his way up from sous chef to chef de cuisine, purchasing the restaurant in 2009 with a business partner. Now Splendido’s sole owner, Barry is quick to reflect on his remarkable rise to success while finding ways to use his accomplishments to support youth in need, including as this year’s Celebrity Chef at the Children’s Aid Foundation Gala, Teddy Bear Affair. But, beyond presenting gala guests with a delicious, custom made meal, Victor has gone a step further in his quest to make an impact by mentoring a Foundation-supported youth.

As a self-described “angry kid”, Tyler entered foster care at age 14 after his parents could no longer provide the support he needed. “I’ve had a worker since I was eight, was in therapy from the ages of about eight to 12, and then everything blew-up when I was about 14,” he says. Moving from his parents’ home to a foster home in Brampton, he was faced with the reality of living in a new environment, removed from everyone and everything he’d known. “Foster care can either be the best thing for kids or it can backfire and not be any help to them,” says Tyler, adding that being away from his “mom and dad, and having to travel so far just to get back to them, was the hardest thing.”

“Foster care can either be the best thing for kids or it can backfire and not be any help to them,” says Tyler, adding that being away from his “mom and dad, and having to travel so far just to get back to them, was the hardest thing.”

Now 22, Tyler is fervently working towards a career in hospitality, with a specific focus on beverage service and management. Commending the support he received from the Children’s Aid Foundation and Children’s Aid Society for having helped him attend post-secondary school and afford living expenses like rent, transportation, and even uniforms when required, Tyler jumped at the opportunity to shadow Chef Victor and learn more about working in a busy kitchen environment.

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“It wasn’t at all what I expected,” he says in reflection of his mentorship experience at Splendido. “I expected to be in the kitchen working the whole day, which I sort of did, but not the whole time. There was one point where we went down to [Chef Victor’s] office and he ordered some things for a catering event, and then we went upstairs and I prepped a couple things and we went for a trip over to Chinatown.”

Describing the upscale venue’s kitchen as a home away from home where kitchen staff and Chef Victor (who he defines as “awesome and so laidback”) are all members of one, big family, Tyler says the valuable mentorship gave him a “new found respect” for those working behind the scenes in restaurants. It also helped him to think about his own future with confidence and a more focused lens.

With his current sights set on a career in molecular gastronomy – aka “food science” – Tyler is quick to emphasize the importance of mentorship opportunities, particularly for youth in and from care. “As a former youth in care, no opportunities to explore what I wanted to do came around,” he says. “This is just brilliant, and if more youth in care could do this it would be amazing.”

“I think that all children should get to enjoy their childhood and themselves without having to worry about the things that adult worries about for them.”

As for Chef Victor, who feels “very fortunate” to be in his current position, his advice to young, hopeful culinary experts is simple: “Enjoy the ride, enjoy the journey, don’t look to the end.” Although he’s learned a thing or two during his time as both a restaurant owner and chef, he says patience has been one of his greatest lessons, and views his commitment to vulnerable kids in his community as a duty. “If you have the ability to giveback, I think you should,” he says. “I think that all children should get to enjoy their childhood and themselves without having to worry about the things that adult worries about for them.”

Learn more about the Children’s Aid Foundation Gala, Teddy Bear Affair.

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