Just about 21 years ago, when I was a bran-new freelancer with an occasional gig at Toronto Life, the food editor at the time, Joseph Hoare, sent me down to the Harbourcastle Hilton to cover a press conference. There were three chefs hanging around in whites—all of them European, as was the custom, if not quite the rule, in those days: the Hilton’s executive chef, the great Albert Schnell, the restaurant chef for the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Willi Fida, and his sous chef, Marc Thuet, a big bear of a guy who had just been sent over to Canada by Anton Mosimann of the Dorchester in England. (Mosimann had worked under Schnell in the ’60s in Montreal.)
Fida was the young talent I went down there to meet—an Austrian, aged 29 or maybe 30. Joseph Hoare had pegged him as someone to watch. A few months later, however, Fida abandoned Toronto and the urban chefs’ rat race. Decades before anyone else had the idea, he moved his life down to Prince Edward County, settled in the village of Bloomfield and opened an inn-cum-restaurant-cum-spa of his own called Angeline’s.
Marc Thuet ended up becoming the star in Toronto, though he often went down to see his friend and go hunting with him for deer or wild turkey. Willi Fida stayed at Angeline’s, his dining room a lonely oasis of classical European fine dining until the recent migration of talent to the County. Toronto Life always remembered Angeline’s and put the place in its annual restaurant guide. Locally, meanwhile, Fida was revered as a chef and also as a citizen, a man who could be relied upon to give generous support to any event or cause.
Willi Fida died last Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. when the car he was driving left the road and hit a tree. He was 50 years old.
When Scott Kapitan and Jacqui Vickers opened their own restaurant, the Bloomfield Carriage House, in 2005, Willi quickly became a friend. “In fact, he was one of the reasons Jacqui and I relocated to Prince Edward County,” says Kapitan. “We stayed at his Inn every time we came to the County to do research because he was so generous and helpful. He pointed us in the right directions as he did for many others. There is hardly anyone in this community that Willi did not lend a hand to. He was a pioneer of fine dining in Prince Edward County, having been here for 20 years. And he was what we all hope to achieve: a success as a chef, a friend and as a human being. With his passing a huge void has been left in his place. He will be greatly missed.”
As a tribute in Fida’s honour, P.E.C.’s local Taste the County program has initiated an educational bursary to be directed annually to a County resident who is pursuing continued education in the culinary arts.