Need to Know: Nathin Bye
How one Edmonton chef is making his kitchens a welcoming place for everyone
by Alix Kemp
Higher ed: Culinary arts diploma, NAIT
First job: Dishwasher at Earls (Whitemud Crossing)
At 31, Nathin Bye has already opened four restaurants and is now opening his fifth. But what makes Bye unique isn’t his youth and success. It’s the fact that he’s openly gay in an environment notorious for regressive gender politics. “I’m pro-gay and pro-woman,” he says. “In the kitchen, that’s the last thing you expect.” Bye makes equality in his restaurants a priority, and has been the culinary sponsor of Camp Fyrefly, a summer camp for LGBT youth, for several years.
Bye got his first job in a kitchen at 15, washing dishes at Earls. Still, he didn’t always know he’d be a chef – he actually considered studying law before deciding to enrol in NAIT’s culinary school. “I was extremely passionate about both, but I fell in love with the adrenalin of the kitchen.” After graduating, he worked in several kitchens. By 26, he was the corporate chef at the Lazia Group, where he headed up the Wildflower Grill at Edmonton’s Matrix Hotel. The restaurant is now one of the most beloved fine dining establishments in the city.
After five years with Lazia, Bye is pursuing every chef’s dream: opening his own restaurant. In the spring, Bye took over Murrieta’s on Whyte Avenue and is reopening it under his own banner in October. The new restaurant, called &27, is a tapas restaurant with a Canadian flair. Rather than focusing on an ethnic or regional cuisine, Bye says &27 will have an “eating style of cuisine,” one that combines diverse elements for the city’s growing population of restaurant enthusiasts. “You’re going to see everything from octopus to rabbit to veal,” he says. Bye also wants to make his kitchen one where diversity and acceptance are valued, and has made a point of hiring women and sexual minorities to work in the restaurant.
If all goes well with &27, Bye hopes to follow it up with a second restaurant and eventually more. That would mean more spaces for other young, gay chefs to come up, and could ultimately help create more positive spaces elsewhere in the culinary world.