If there’s one thing that comes across in Tyler Canon's culinary repertoire, it’s a deep unwavering love for southern comfort food instilled in him from a very early age. Both sides of his family are rooted in the south – Memphis, TN & Florence, Alabama. Tyler’s grandfather was raised on a farm in Mississippi, and taught him that food was about community and bringing people together. So it’s no surprise that his holidays were spent with the whole family in the kitchen, lead by his grandmother, enjoying traditional southern comfort food like country ham, fried chicken, and smoked brisket. Tyler grew up with a love of these flavors and a deeper appreciation of food and family ties. Back home in Brevard, North Carolina, Tyler’s parents instilled an appreciation for healthy food and moderation. His father, a family practice and emergency room doctor, taught him about balanced nutrition. According to Tyler, this upbringing made those holiday trips to Memphis all the more special.
At age 15, Tyler took on his first restaurant job at a neighborhood BBQ restaurant. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to waiting tables, and cooking on the line. His senior year of high school, Tyler began working at The Falls Landing, a seafood restaurant, and there truly discovered his love for cooking.
From 2002-2007, Tyler attended Virginia Tech, beginning as a computer science major, and ultimately finishing with a degree in geography. During this time, he worked at the Inn at Virginia Tech, under the Banquet Chef in the production kitchen. During this time, Tyler worked closely with Chef Mike Arrington, personal chef to the President of Virginia Tech. He credits Chef Arrington with teaching him a range of culinary skills from smoked seafood to ice cream. Upon graduation, Tyler was offered a salaried position at Preston’s, the Inn’s fine dining restaurant, and the opportunity to work under Chef Josef Schlech, formerly of the Homestead. Under Chef Josef's tutelage, Tyler learned a lot how to run a line, and core skills such as building flavor profiles, pairing, and creating sauces. This was the turning point in which Tyler decided that being a chef was his ultimate goal.
From 2010 to 2013, Tyler worked in Charlottesville at Boar’s Head’s Old Mill Room restaurant, in both the Lead Line Cook and Sous Chef roles. During this time, he learned how to translate his love for southern comfort food into a fine dining experience.
Tyler went on to become the Executive Chef at Devil’s Grill at Wintergreen Resort, a private restaurant for hotel guests and members. This opportunity allowed him to operate a kitchen, experiment with menus, and truly be creative.
After three years at Devil’s Grill, Tyler was ready for a new challenge and growth opportunity. As Restaurant Chef of Garden Bistro, Tyler will again be working with Executive Chef Hector Cruz to create an exceptional fine dining experience.
What is your favorite thing about Airlie?
The people are phenomenal. I’m excited to be working with Hector again in addition to learning from Sous Chef Brian Donato. I love the outdoors, so the combination of the grounds, organic garden, and amazing team both front and back of the house has been really great.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I love to go hiking, backpacking, and camping. As a kid, my Dad took us on a lot of outdoor adventures. I really love to travel – Brazil, Scotland, and England are some favorites – eat (of course!), and photograph my adventures.
Why do you love your job?
At the core, I like to make people happy, and enjoy connecting to people through food. We become part of their memorable occasions and life experiences. My grandmother taught me about “southern hospitality,” and feeling welcome. I want people to feel like they are in my home when they are enjoying a special meal.
What’s your favorite book?
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
I love anything outdoors, and recently completed a 10-day hike of the Appalachian Trail from Afton to Harper’s Ferry. Visiting family. Puerto Rico is a wonderful spot for Caribbean vacation.
What is your favorite meal?
Anything someone else has cooked for me! In all seriousness, I love breakfast. It has to be buttermilk biscuits and sawmill gravy with country ham. I remember the first time I ate this as a kid in Nashville, Tennessee with my grandmother and her friends. Food that can produce a lifelong memory is pretty special.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
Chef Mike Arrington (Personal Chef of the Virginia Tech President’s House) said, “remember you have to work to live; don’t always live to work.” Even though I know I should, I don’t always follow the mantra. This advice was given to me at a time where I was leaving one job and going to another, and came from a colleague who I greatly respected. It did teach me to take time to get outside, enjoy life, and balance.
What is the one kitchen tool you could not live without?
Tongs are the single most important tool I have to have. In the kitchen, a pair of tongs and a towel can get everything done. I always hide the best ones in kitchen. In the fast-paced environment of the cooking line, I need to orchestrate, and tongs are my go-to tool.
What would you do if you won $1 million in the lottery?
Build a cabin in the woods for peace and quiet. Explore Europe, southeast Asia, and see the world through cultural experiences.
Who is your hero and why?
Susan Farrar, my senior AP English teacher and yearbook advisor. I was the assistant editor of my senior yearbook and I worked very closely with her and got to know her, I've always had a great respect and admiration for public school teachers and Mrs. Farrar was one of the best.
Who living or passed would you like to have a meal with?
I have to say Ernest Hemingway. I really enjoy his writing and I know his adventures and stories would make for great dinner conversation. Also I would love to drink good beer or have a glass of nice scotch with him.
Enjoy the culinary stylings of Chef Canon when you visit Garden Bistro. The new fall menu launches Thursday, September 29th. Click here to preview the menu!