It's been nearly a week since the word spread that chef, writer, radio host and Canadian culinary ambassador Nathan Fong passed away suddenly in his Vancouver home. It's not any easier to believe today as it was when I first heard the sad news on Monday night.
Being based in Calgary, but working in Vancouver fairly regularly, I had the chance to get to know Fong over the past fews years as our paths crossed. He was always the life of the party at events and you'd see people flock to him for conversation and a big hug. One time while travelling overseas, fellow food writer Twyla Campbell and I wound up having a home-cooked dinner with Fong and his partner Michel at Fong's brother's home in Saigon. Making sure we felt at home with him and his brother's family while thousands of kilometres away from our actual homes proved that Fong was the consummate host, even when abroad.
His passing is felt by so many people in this country, and many who knew him much better and much longer than I, but we would be remiss to not take the time to celebrate a person who has such a special place in so many people's hearts, mine included.
"His dinner parties were legendary and he made everything look so simple"
"[Like many], I've been the recipient of his generosity and inclusion; he loved nothing more that gathering a group of his eclectic friends and introducing them to each other. His dinner parties were legendary and he made everything look so simple; he pulled off impromptu events with such aplomb. Of course, anyone who loved food was an automatic friend and he loved good gossip! Even when he said he was stressed, Nathan was impeccable–always beautifully dressed and cool as can be. We have really lost a light in Vancouver." - Nancie Hall, former regional PR director for Fairmont Hotels.
"I know wherever he is now, he is already the life of the party and the host of his own show"
"I remember the first time meeting the Nathan Fong. We connected instantly, and it wasn't long before we were bickering like old lovers. We'd tease each other about being 'well-kept ladies', although I never fought him for the crown. He'd jokingly complain to me about not making time for him, but all I want now is time with him. He cared about all of his friends and was so loyal to them. Any opportunities he has, he tried to include them and he always brought the community together. He was a pioneer, a trailblazer, a true culinary supporter and lover. My heart is broken at this sudden loss of my dear friend, but I know wherever he is, he is already the life of the party and the host of his own show. You will be incredibly missed and never forgotten. Rest well darling. Love you forever." Mijune Pak, Top Chef Canada judge and media personality.
"Bigger than life personality"
"Someone who truly uplifted British Columbia’s food industry around the world"
"Nathan was larger than life. He was one of kind, someone who truly uplifted British Columbia’s food industry around the world, in more ways than one. I’ll always remember him for his beautiful energy, ability to mobilize the community towards raising funds and awareness for the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, and his love for cooking, hosting, travel, and the arts. But most importantly, I’ll remember him for his kindness and generosity towards me when I first started consulting those many years ago. Rest well in peace, my friend." - Sophia Cheng, owner-principal Sophia Cheng PR.
"That lovely, ever-present smile"
"Whenever I’d catch up with Nathan, I marvelled at his hectic life. He was constantly on the go with so many projects, so much travel, so many social engagements, so many dinner parties, so many friends to stay in touch with, so many deadlines. What would have had me certifiable seemed to fill him with grace and happiness. Upon his leaving us all, what floats to the surface for me is his generosity, positivity and genuine love of people. And that lovely ever-present smile. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s pencilled in a tea with Julia Child." - Mia Stainsby, Vancouver Sun restaurant critic and columnist.
Stainsby also shared more fond memories of Fong in the Vancouver Sun's memorium piece by Aleesha Harris earlier this week.
"Nathan's joie de vivre and unrelenting passion for food shone a bright light"
"Nathan's joie de vivre and unrelenting passion for food shone a bright light for so many of us in the hospitality industry for so long, and our world is a little darker now in his absence. He was truly one-of-a-kind and it’s hard to imagine life without him. He will be so greatly missed by those of us who were lucky enough to have called him a friend, colleague, cheerleader and on occasion, partner in crime." - Shelley McArthur, owner-principal SMC Communications.
"He liked to introduce people who he thought could help each other"
"Nathan was always a connector. He liked to introduce people who he thought could help each other and in many cases it worked really well. Nathan and I were at the Four Seasons in Milan and Springsteen and the band were staying there too. Steve Van Zandt came into the lobby and I told Nathan how much I admired him in the Sopranos. Immediately Nathan got up went over to Van Zandt told him he had a fan who would love to talk to him. He came over, I was totally embarrassed and it turned out to be the best half hour chat with a celebrity that I ever had. A great memory... I will miss him dearly." Lucy Waverman, The Globe and Mail columnist and cookbook author.
"Vancouver is lacking in facilitators like him"
"Nathan and Michel hosted legendary dinner parties. The charm is that they were home-style. Often potluck, but if you didn't bring something, you'd get set to work–pinching dumplings or stirring stew–That's what made those dinners so great. Vancouver is lacking in facilitators like him. And I remember him calling out his friends, about a year ago, for not reciprocating the inviations. No one invited him to dinner parties [and] he was so right to be pissed off." - Alexandra Gill, The Globe and Mail restaurant critic.
Gill wrote a beautiful obiturary piece this week in celebration of Fong's life and his multi-faceted (and muti-decade) career in the culinary industry.