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Pioneering, culinary trailblazer set the gold standard in Stratford

Joseph Mandel, owner of the Church Restaurant, was a pioneer in the now-acclaimed culinary industry of Stratford. He was also the co-founder of the Stratford Chefs School

A trailblazer in the Stratford culinary scene, Joseph Mandel, co-founder of the Stratford Chefs School, has died at the age of 86. 

Mandel, originally from New Zealand, opened the Church Restaurant (now called Revival House) in 1983 and in Eleanor Kane’s words, “blew the Stratford culinary scene open.”

Kane is the former owner of The Old Prune. Along with Mandel and Rundles proprietor James Morris, they started the Stratford Chefs School. She has fond memories of Mandel and the work they did in opening the school. She also remembers when they first met. 

When Kane first moved to Stratford and opened a restaurant, she invited Mandel to their opening day. 

“I'll never forget it,” she told StratfordToday. “He walked down the hallway and with a big smile on his face, he said ‘God bless you two’ … He was really working so hard to advance the level of culinary work in Stratford. He was kind of a lone agent at that point and I think he was very happy that someone else also had interesting and creative ideas in terms of hospitality. From that day on, he remained very loyal and very helpful.”

Whereas the restaurant business often sees a lot of competition and fighting amongst peers, Mandel was always friendly and collaborative, according to Kane.  

Additionally, Mandel’s business acumen was second-to-none. Coming from the esteemed Rank Hotel in London, England, where he served as general manager, Kane said that he was fierce in his guidance, always striving for other businesses to achieve the best they could. 

He also supported those around him. Kane disclosed that after coming to Stratford he brought along with him almost his entire brigade of chefs to the Festival City. In doing this he would have housed them, guided them, and supported them in their work.

“He also had a wicked sense of humor,” Kane shared. “So there was lots of laughter in between trying to work the business model out.”

The Stratford Chefs School had its start out of necessity. After year upon year of international chefs coming to the city, Mandel, Kane, and Morris were one day brought into a meeting with John Evans, director of Stratford’s Canada Manpower agency. Showing Evans that there was no program in the country at the time, they devised to create one themselves. 

Through Evans petitioning, they got a kickstart and the rest is history. Started in 1983, the Stratford Chefs School has set the standard for excellence in professional culinary training in Canada. They boast over 800 alumni who have gone on to impact cuisine in Canada and throughout the world. 

Despite Mandel’s achievements, Kane remembers him for who he was. 

“He was a fascinating person. He was very funny and had a great sense of humor … He could be quite fierce and was a no nonsense kind of man. He was very serious about his profession but he was playful. He loved theatre. He loved music, and he was gifted, he was intelligent. He was quite the person.”

Mandel was the partner of the late Robin Phillips, who like Mandel was a prominent Stratford citizen. As artistic director of the Stratford Festival from 1975 to 1980, Phillips “raised the bar in the theatrical world at the Festival,” as Kane put.

“Similarly, Joe had these sorts of aspirations.”

Mandel passed away on Jan. 5 after a stroke. According to his obituary, memorial donations may be made in his memory to the Actors’ Fund of Canada or to the Performing Arts Lodge Stratford. Both of these institutions provide aid to the performing arts communities. 

Joseph Mandel's Obit

Related: Student-designed menu dinners return to Stratford Chef School