Profiles

Zita Cobb, founder of Fogo Island Inn, on conquering the unknown

Photo by Alex Fradkin

Photo by Alex Fradkin

Zita Cobb is not afraid of the unknown. At the age of 16, she left her home in Newfoundland to attend Ottawa’s Carleton University. After graduating, she and a friend bought a van and drove it around North America, “anywhere there was a road,” she says, for six months until the vehicle eventually died in Calgary, a convenient time and place to begin a career in business finance in the oil patch.

Fast-forward 20 years to 2001: Cobb chose to celebrate retiring from her executive position at JDS Uniphase (at the end of a successful career during which she saw the company grow to 40,000 employees) by sailing the world for four years. “When you’re in the middle of the Atlantic, how well you’ll do depends on your own wit and how you plan and take care of the boat,” she says.

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Profiles

Meet the American woman heading Hudson’s Bay

Liz Rodbell

Liz Rodbell’s first summer job, at the age of 16, was a sales associate position at Albert Steiger Co., a department store in Springfield, Mass. Forty-one years later, that shop is long gone, but Rodbell has climbed the retail ladder to become the president of Hudson’s Bay, the first time an American woman has held that plum position at the centuries-old Canadian icon.

On a Tuesday afternoon in July, I meet Rodbell in the Platinum Suite at The Room, the Bay’s luxury women’s-wear destination in downtown Toronto.

Sitting on a plush grey couch in an azure Jason Wu sheath dress, black Saint Laurent heels and bold tortoiseshell Céline eyeglasses, she is a splash of energy and colour in an otherwise neutral space.

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Profiles

Khaled Hosseini on Afghanistan, goodwill and his latest book

Courtesy Penguin Canada

Courtesy Penguin Canada

“Everything you do for every human being counts.” Khaled Hosseini is talking about the message he’s trying to convey through his eponymous foundation, which provides humanitarian aid to people in Afghanistan, but he could also be referring to one of the themes in his new book, And the Mountains Echoed.

It’s been 10 years since the former doctor wrote his first book, The Kite Runner, the story of a boy and his servant in 1970s Afghanistan. The book became one of the world’s top bestsellers and was adapted by Hollywood for the big screen. “It seems like just the other day,” Hosseini says.

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Profiles

Glen Hansard is doing just swell

Photo by Colin O'Connor for National Post

Photo by Colin O’Connor for National Post

Glen Hansard knows how to tell a story, which is fantastic if you’re a journalist because he’ll answer questions without having to be asked, and the conversation will flow naturally to unlikely subjects.

But it might be a challenge if you’re a publicist, particularly one who’s trying to manage a strict interview schedule, because no matter how emphatically you’re tapping your finger on your watch, journalists (this one, anyway) won’t want to interrupt Hansard, 42, remembering how, as a nervous 20-year-old, he celebrated Van Morrison’s 50th birthday with him, singing and playing guitar together. “We didn’t talk. At all. We just sang,” he says. “The guitar had four strings on it when we finished.”

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Profiles

Jamie Oliver has leveraged his celebrity to become a political player

Jamie Oliver

Photo by Aaron Lynette for National Post

Jamie Oliver is on top of the world — or, more accurately, on top of Toronto. On a grey afternoon last week, he found time between book signings to play tourist and visit the CN Tower. “I’ve been wanting to do this for ages!” he exclaims on the long way up.

Thanks to a group of high school kids challenging the weight-bearing qualifications of the glass floor, Oliver goes unnoticed in the tower until he gets to the 360 restaurant. And then the group following his tour grows. The head chef and other restaurant staff greet Oliver as he and the dining floor revolve. The extra attention doesn’t seem to faze him, though. It’s something he’s had to get used to since moving from the kitchen into the political arena.

It’s normal, expected even, for a celebrity chef to have a cookbook (or 10), to have a TV series (or 10) and to have a cookware line (one for now, with T-Fal), but to have a secondary career as a lobbyist? It’s unorthodox, and Oliver is the first to admit it.

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Profiles

Om Puri and his young protege on the 12-year journey behind the East is East sequel

West is West

Courtesy D Films

On a balmy afternoon during last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, storied Indian actor Om Puri, 60, wipes the fatigue from his face. Beside him, happily perched on the edge of the couch, munching on chocolate cookies (his favourite), is 16-year-old Aqib Khan. The differences in their appearances here very much echo the differences between their characters in West is West, the sequel to the 1999 smash East is East, about a Pakistani-English family coming to terms with its mixed heritage in 1970s Salford, England.

Puri, a film legend, has acted in more than 200 films and TV projects. Khan, however, is a film newbie. West is West was met with a standing ovation when it had its world premiere at TIFF last September. For his first acting gig, Khan is setting the bar rather high.

“I know,” he beams. “Working with Om Puri, the best actor in the world.”

Puri smiles brightly and corrects him: “One of the best.”

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Profiles

Michael Obnowlenny will soon be Canada’s first tea sommelier

Michael Obnowlenny

Photo by Chris Stevenson

Kyoto Cherry Rose is the flavour Michael Obnowlenny orders for afternoon tea at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York hotel. While he can’t decide on a favourite, this is the one he prefers at this time of day. The mild green tea is pleasant, he says, “with what I call light, afternoon tastes.” True, most people have probably never heard of Kyoto Cherry Rose, and might not describe tea as tasting like the afternoon, but Obnowlenny, soon to be Canada’s first certified sommelier of tea (sommelier being a title usually reserved for those formally educated wine experts), is convinced this is going to change.

In terns of interest and demand, “Tea is where wine was 20 years ago,” Obnowlenny says, adding that he’s noticed an increase in the popularity of tea over the past five years. “The same is true when you compare tea to coffee.” In fact, Canadian tea consumption soared to 90.7 litres per capita in 2003, up from 56.6 in 1997. “The younger generation is embracing it because of the avant-garde flavour combinations,” Obnowlenny explains, adding that the majority of the Royal York’s tea goers are now under 40.

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