Odell Baskerville, a beloved chef and mentor in the Tucson community, died July 21 after a battle with cancer.
According to a GoFundMe page, Baskerville was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014, followed by brain cancer in 2015.
Baskerville didn’t begin cooking until age 33, opting instead to earn a master’s degree in English at Albany State University and teach high school students. One of his earliest cooking jobs was at the Ventana Room, where he met chef Steven Schultz, now the owner and chef of Wild Garlic Grill. Schultz shared the following on Wild Garlic Grill’s Facebook page:
“I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the entire Baskerville Family. I’ve met very few people like Odell during my career and it was a pleasure working with him at The Ventana Room for three years. He was a wonderful man, kind-hearted and diligent in all his endeavors. His dedication and passion to his craft knew no bounds and, in recognizing this, I immediately promoted him to be my assistant. Together, we thrived. The Ventana Room received more accolades than ever before, and our efforts garnered us #12 Best Restaurant “Conde Nast Travel Magazine” 50 Best Restaurants. My friend, you excelled against all odds because you were a fighter. I will always reflect on your memory fondly, for the skill you displayed and the respect that you had for your work and the people around you. God bless you on your journey.”
Baskerville moved on to the Arizona Inn, working his way up to the executive chef position and earning the Inn its first AAA four-diamond ranking in 2006.
During Baskerville’s time at Acacia, he worked with chef Albert Hall.
“He was one of the kindest, most gentle beings I’ve ever known,” Hall said. “His commitment to the culinary world was unwavering. He’s touched a lot of young peoples’ lives through the Art Institute. If you knew Odell, you knew who a real chef was.”
Though Baskerville was most recently a chef instructor at the Art Institute of Tucson, he previously held the same role at Pima Community College.
“He was just a wonderful, warm, intelligent, fabulous chef,” said Elizabeth Mikesell, culinary instructor at Pima. “He was very innovative about how he taught. He kept them excited with Top Chef-style competitions. He always smiled and had a bit of a twinkle. He had all of the right ingredients.”
The following sentiments were shared over Facebook by some of Baskerville’s former students:
Chef Adrian Castillo, Elvira’s:
“My words don’t do this man justice but I know that I learned some very valuable lessons in the kitchen and in life from this great chef, Chef Odell Baskerville will cook with me everyday, every night, every service! I am one of your students and will do my best to use the tools you gave me in a responsible way! Thank you for touching my life! I salute you with this shot to the head!”
Richard Tostado, Manager at Serial Grillers:
“I can’t believe you are gone. Rest in peace chef Odell Baskerville you were truly an amazing person, mentor and chef. You will always have a special place in my heart because you were the one who pushed me in the kitchen to be better and take on challenges I would have never done. Prayers go out to the Baskerville family and know that he made a huge impact in the culinary world. You will be missed.”
Dale Dent, cook at Commoner & Co.:
“I have to say goodbye to a mentor in the kitchen. Nothing but respect for this man. You are already missed.”