Category: Archive

Relishing a top spot in NYC’s food chain

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

Since he was a child, Michael Walsh has enjoyed cooking. Now, as the executive chef at the Westin Hotel, on Manhattan’s Central Park South, and chef de cuisine for the hotel’s AAA Five-Diamond restaurant called Fantino, the 30-year-old Dubliner occupies a top position in the fiercely competitive New York fine dining world.

The Westin Central Park South, formerly the Ritz Carlton, is now Westin’s flagship hotel in Manhattan. It is one of only five Five-Diamond restaurants in New York City.

As executive chef, Walsh is in charge of 14 line cooks, two pastry chefs, two banquet chefs and 14 kitchen stewards. His second in command is sous chef Frank Tujague.

“I have been cooking since I was a kid,” Walsh said. “I was always interested in it. I am very big into creating. I love color, I love to play, and then at the end of the day to watch someone enjoy it.”

In addition to being the chef de cuisine for Fantino, Walsh is responsible, he said, for “anything to do with food and beverages” in the Westin. This includes room service, banquets and the hotel bar. He also writes menu items, introduces new menu items and generally promotes Fantino through such events as food shows, the last one having been for auctioneers from Christies. In addition, he is in charge of payroll and scheduling for his staff.

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One of a family of six, three boys and three girls, Walsh is a native of Killiney, Co. Dublin. After doing a two-year catering course at Cathal Brugha Street College of Catering in Dublin, he arrived in the U.S. in 1987.

“I came out with three of my best friends, Steven Doran, James Mooney and Billy Orr,” Walsh recalled. “It was always a dream we had to come to the States.”

All four worked for a rigging company, moving heavy equipment such as air-conditioning units and computers.

During five years with the rigging company, Walsh traveled all over the United States, even drove from New York to California with Orr, who now owns his own bar/restaurant in Santa Monica. Doran, who lives in Woodside, still works with the rigging company while Mooney, who lives in Philadelphia, works for Ericsson.

After obtaining his Donnelly Visa in 1991, Walsh began to think about a career rather than just a job. “What I really wanted to do was get into fine dining. I didn’t just want to become a cook, I wanted to be a chef,” he said.

For two years, Walsh attended New York Restaurant School, studying culinary arts and international cooking. He also held a full-time night job as a doorman at Doral hotels in Manhattan.

After graduating as a fully certified chef, Walsh worked for about 18 months as a line cook for a four-star restaurant called Time and Again, at the Doral Tuscany Hotel on 39th Street, between Lexington and Park Avenues. There he met the man he regards as his mentor, a French chef named Christof Barbier.

Barbier eventually moved on to a five-star restaurant, the Mark Restaurant, at the Mark Hotel, 77th Street and Madison Avenue. When Time & Again closed for six months for renovations, Walsh moved to the Doral Court Hotel, at 39th Street and Lexington Avenue, and its restaurant, called Courtyard Cafe.

While at Time & Again, where he worked evenings and nights, Walsh also had a lunchtime job in Ryan & Maguires, on John Street, in downtown Manhattan. “That was great for me because I learned to build up speed,” he said.

As Barbier was building his team in the Mark, he invited Walsh to come on board. Subsequently, when Walsh heard that the executive chef at the Ritz Carlton, Stephen Cummins, was looking for a sous chef, he sought an interview. “The two of us just hit it off straight away,” Walsh said.

Last April, after Cummins was named executive chef at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, Colo., Walsh got his job in the Westin.

Among those for whom Walsh has cooked: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Pierce Brosnan and the casts of “Titanic” and “Riverdance.” CNN talk show host Larry King is almost a daily visitor to Fantino, and among Fantino’s corporate accounts are giants like Disney and Warner Brothers.

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