Tony Clark, 60, a chef whose courage helped him land a job at the Four Seasons hotel in its glory days and who later helped mentor a generation of restaurant professionals, died on Thursday June 30 at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital due to complications. of a stroke he suffered about two months ago.
Mr. Clark was the eponymous chef-partner of a glitzy downtown Philadelphia restaurant in 1997 and served as executive chef at four restaurants in the former Sheraton Rittenhouse Square, now the site of the Park. From there, he served as a private chef for a Main Line family before opening Old Grange in Cold Spring Village in Cape May in 2011. He later served as a chef at establishments such as Valley Forge Casino & Resort. Most recently, he was a corporate chef for Samuels & Son, a seafood distributor, but moved to Ocean City, NJ, and served as executive chef at the Peter Shields Inn in Cape May.
A burly 6-foot-1, he commanded a kitchen and carried high standards. “They think I’m a freak,” he told The Inquirer in a 1999 interview. “My rhythm is unbroken. The first day here we had this kid that we thought was going to be good. He heard me scream and he just disappeared. His wife came to get his knives.
Outside office hours, he turned off his tirades “like a switch” to show his jovial side, said Union League chief executive and former Four Seasons colleague Martin Hamann. (Mr. Clark’s son, Anthony Jr., now works for Hamann.)
“He was our whole best friend,” said his daughter Ashley, who called him “a true showman who used food as a medium.” His real talent was making people feel special.
His son Anthony said everything he knew about life and cooking came from his father. “I was talking to people who said whether he worked with you for three days or a year, you saw his passion and his drive and that stayed with you forever,” he said.
David Jansen, a former Four Seasons chef who owns the Jansen Restaurant in Mount Airy, called Mr Clark “larger than life, always passionate about family, food and friends. He has mentored so many young chefs, including myself.
Mr. Clark grew up in Westmont, NJ, the only boy of four girls and the class clown at Holy Savior School and St. Paul VI High School. By his own admission, he wasn’t very good at school but had a strong work ethic.
He was a dish washer at Layers Dutch Kitchen near Cape May in the mid-1970s when he fell in love with catering. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. After graduating he decided he wanted to work at the Four Seasons and then at Logan Circle, whose Fountain restaurant was one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia under the direction of chef Jean-Marie Lacroix.
Mr. Clark posted a request but got no response. He put on his only suit and headed for the kitchen. He was turned away. For several days he did the same thing. One day, someone didn’t show up for work. Lacroix handed him a uniform and Mr. Clark slipped on the terrazzo floor for 10 hours in his dress shoes. He was hired that night. When he told his mother, she gave him the mail for the day, which included a rejection letter from the Four Seasons. He spent 13 years in this kitchen among a talent pool.
Mr. Clark gave Lacroix the nickname Papa, a gesture that still touches Lacroix nearly 40 years later. “He was a hard worker, but so upbeat with a great sense of humor,” Lacroix said.
Mr Clark was lured from the Four Seasons by financiers to open his own restaurant, which opened in 1997. Tony Clark’s, at the northeast corner of Broad and Sansom streets, was a multi-million dollar project which was quickly derailed due to infighting. between partners. As friction grew, Mr Clark left in early 1998. “Tony Clarkless”, as the wags dubbed him, closed in 1999.
But Mr. Clark ended up with at least one special memory. On the restaurant’s fifth night, Inquirer critic Elaine Tait was eating a review dinner. Across the dining room was Mr. Clark’s wife, Doreen, who gave birth. A waiter rushed into the kitchen, where Mr. Clark was busy over Tait’s plates. “How far are the contractions?” said the chief. The waiter came back and announced, “Ten minutes.
Mr. Clark wiped the edges of the plates, threw away his apron, and took his wife to the hospital. Her son Frank was born that night. Tait had no idea of the tragedy. His review was glowing.
The couple later divorced but remained friends.
Mr. Clark won Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award in 1997 and landed a culinary appointment at the James Beard House in New York City as part of his Great Regional Chefs of America series.
Along with his ex-wife, sons Anthony and Frank and daughter Ashley, Mr. Clark is survived by another son, Jimmy; another daughter, Brianna; sisters Eleanor Rand, Kathy Austin, Bridget Harron and Regina Hankins; and grandchildren Savannah and Sheamus McAlorum.
Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. Friday, July 8 at McGuinness Funeral Home, 573 Egg Harbor Rd., Sewell, NJ. Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. on July 9 at Holy Savior Church, 50 Emerald Ave, Haddon Township. Interment will be in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Blackwood.