Merrill Shindler / July 2011
Food Arts presents the July/August 2011 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Patrick McDonnell, who has lived—and continues to live—a life in the world of food and hospitality of such multifaceted complexity that the way stations that led him to his current position as an international culinary consultant to name-brand corporations and fast-food and mid-level chain operators can hardly be summarized on a single page.
Born in Hong Kong, raised in Kenya, Holland, Turkey, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, England, and the United States, McDonnell, 61, spent his teenage years attending an Outward Bound school in the Swiss Alps. As a result, he’s an accomplished downhill skier. He’s also a master of Kyokushin karate—you don’t want to mess with him in the kitchen.
He first joined the world of hospitality with The Savoy Group in London, where he entered the management training program in 1968 and then worked at Savoy, Savoy Grill, and Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. In 1971, he became chef at Peter Morton’s Great American Disaster in London, the prototype for the Hard Rock Café. Moving to the United States in 1973, he was hired by the Rouse Company, where he worked with such repurposed icons as Faneuil Hall in Boston and Harbor Place in Baltimore.
McDonnell finally went solo in 1976, when he opened the pioneering nouvelle cuisine restaurant Sarabande in Baltimore. With the support of Food Arts founders Michael and Ariane Batterberry, he moved to New York City to become the chef at Le Coup de Fusil, where he earned the sobriquet “the most famous chef you never heard of.” But that was simply the prelude to a life, as McDonnell says, “backstage”: vice president of techniculinary development for General Food’s Culinova, where he helped launch the Fresh Express brand; director of new product development for ConAgra, where he oversaw Healthy Choice; vice president for culinary development at Aramark; and the creation of his own foodservice international consulting firm—Kansas City–based McDonnell Kinder & Associates—which has developed new foods for everyone from Borden’s and ConAgra to Cheseborough Ponds and the Takashimaya department stores of Japan. He’s also served as culinary director of Food Arts since its inception in 1988.
McDonnell is most proud of his work with groups like Chefs Who Care, Chefs for Humanity, the Cancer Research Foundation, and the United States Olympic ski and snowboard teams. In the end, how do you sum up a lifetime of accomplishments? Says McDonnell: “The reward is the talented people I get to work with every day, who can impact an entire culture of food, to change menus and product lines all over the world. That is really satisfying.”