First Name: John
Last Name: Walker
Job Title: Former Dean of Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, George Brown College
For John Walker, chef, academic, recognized industry leader, and University of Guelph MBA alumnus, innovation and change is a way of life.
Growing up in the UK, Walker started his lifelong passion for food services at the young age of 12, washing dishes at the local tavern. Walker immigrated to Canada in 1975. He was shocked at the quality difference between Canadian restaurants and those in the UK. “I had never seen so much processed food before in my life,” said Walker. He knew wherever he was working, quality and innovation needed to be at the forefront. “Canada has come quite a long way in the culinary world in the past few decades.”
In 1977, Walker with other business partners established Rundles Restaurant in Stratford, Ontario, a successful contemporary up-market restaurant that also delivered culinary arts and training programs in the restaurant facilities. His passion for developing and training young culinary professionals grew immensely during this period. This passion led him to leave Rundles Restaurant and enter academia.
In 1982, Walker joined Humber College’s culinary program. Over his 18-year period, Walker worked in a number of positions, including faculty, director and ultimately Dean. His focus on developing partnerships within the hospitality and tourism industry was an integral factor in his success. He saw industry as the primary customer, which created much debate in educational circles. “The key target audience we needed to cater to was the hospitality and food service industry, not necessarily prospective students,” said Walker, noting that by molding the program around the industry’s needs, students will be more marketable, have a better pipeline to potential jobs, and create better positioning for programs.
Thriving on change and the building of success, Walker decided to take on his next challenge, becoming Dean of the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts (CHCA) at George Brown College. With a focus on student success, quality and industry partnerships, Walker’s vision and understanding of industry demands saw the CHCA grow in programs, graduate satisfaction and new state of the art facilities.
As he joined George Brown College, Walker enrolled in Guelph’s MBA program. As Walker puts it, his degree gave him “instant credibility in the boardroom.” What he appreciated most about the program was its focus on the individual. “I felt like I was not just ‘a number’ and the faculty truly wanted to see me have a breakthrough,” said Walker. “The program truly came at the right time in my career.” Walker decided to enroll in the program based on the strong reputation the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management (HFTM) has within his industry.
“The Guelph MBA allowed me to look at our program from a larger, more business and strategy focused perspective,” said Walker.
Instead of focusing only on programming and curriculum, Walker could now examine his decisions from a marketing and positioning perspective. This mindset led him to lead a successful “YES CHEF” fundraising campaign to renovate an existing 20,000 sq. ft facility in downtown Toronto – a key strategic move for the College’s success. In addition to the new and exciting facilities he felt a bigger leap was required in applied learning thus a stand-alone innovative, interactive teaching restaurant called The Chef’s House was established. It is now a culinary jewel of the St. Lawrence Market neighborhood of Toronto.
From his MBA learnings, Walker recognized the value of leveraging this new positioning through the development of value added programming partnerships in India, China, Italy, Panama, and France, and through a strategic partnership with Sobeys Canada - the building of the College’s first research centre called Compliments Culinary Research Centre in George Brown Chef School.
In 2013, having achieved what he wanted to at George Brown, Walker left the college to free up more time up to enjoy the next stage of his life in Prince Edward County with his partner Ilario, including the establishment of a hobby vineyard.
The hospitality industry has recognized Walker’s innovations with numerous industry awards including the League for Innovation International Award, the Hotelier Magazine Pinnacle Award for Leadership in Hospitality & Tourism Education, the Ontario Hostelry Institute Educator of the Year Award, Educator of the Year from The Canadian Food Services Executive Association, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Ontario Hostelry Institute.
“The Guelph MBA allowed me to look at our program from a larger, more business and strategy focused perspective." - John Walker