You might say HMSHost’s Carson Gray is in his element. He is married to a beautiful woman, Marina, and a father of two; daughter Madison and a new son, Mason. “Life today is fairly chaotic and amazing at the same time to say the least,” says Gray. “Learning this whole parenting thing as well as keeping up with the job workload adds an interesting dynamic to my life.” Gray and his family live just outside Washington, D.C., near the company’s headquarters.
Gray also treads a lot of turf, striding the concourses while checking in on hundreds of restaurants and bars including his current projects and new openings in the largest and busiest airports across North America. “I’m Director of Adult Beverage and Concept Development for HMSHost. I get a good laugh when I read that back to myself sometimes, mostly the “Adult Beverage” part.” I’ve heard many times that’s the best title ever…
Gray works with a small team developing “adult beverage” programming. “It’s extremely fast paced and demanding much as the airports environments are.” And what about the other half of his title? “Restaurant Concept Development. This has been such an amazing opportunity to lead on and be a part of. We create new restaurant concepts from the ground up that help elevate the traveler dining experience. As part of this team, we determine a food and beverage need for each airport, then conceptualize ideas, and work with our culinary, design, architecture, and constructions teams to bring the restaurants to life. It doesn’t get much better than walking through an airport and stopping into a restaurant you dreamed up!”
A few names in the HMSHost family include Brix & Vine, Bubbles, Beaudevin, Pork & Pickle, Book & Bourbon, Umaizushi, La Familia, and The Local.
Gray grew up in the shadows of Mickey and company, “I made my family move to Orlando, Florida,” says Gray with a chuckle about his family’s decision to head south when he was nine. “I was born in downtown Toronto and called Canada home for those first years of my life,” he adds. Gray’s dad started, owned and operated a meeting planning/event coordinating business to provide for the family. “Moving from Canada,” he says, “it was the American dream, right? With that opportunity my mom was fortunate enough to stay at home to take care of us.”
Food played a huge role at home. “I grew up with an Italian mother and grandmother that were and still are amazing cooks, so needless to say there
was not a shortage of great food around the house. I’m still an adventurous eater to this day and willing to try anything at least once” he says. To this day, Italian food remains a staple. “My favorite cuisine? Seafood and Italian or Italian seafood, which ever. Growing up in Florida there was not a shortage of fresh seafood and having an Italian heritage I was born into it. I also worked as a Sous chef in a high-end celebrity chef driven seafood restaurant which further solidified my love for that cuisine.”
The appeal of wine wasn’t far behind. “It definitely involved stealing a few large sips of dads dinner wine that did not go unnoticed… it then became a regular occurrence, and the rest was history!” says Gray of his first encounter with wine. His first “aha” moment helped clinch his career path. “One of my beloved regular patrons at the restaurant I managed offered me a glass of his 1970 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti “La Tache” and at the time I never thought I would have the opportunity to taste that wine let alone an older vintage and a full glass! Totally memorable.”
However, food and wine were not necessarily a childhood dream. “I think I shared the common dream with many other young children and wanted to become a firefighter or police officer, to which neither happened so I went with what I loved and attended culinary school to become a chef instead.” Gray attended the famed Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, New York. “I studied Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management and drinking alcoholic beverages,” he adds with his adorable and engaging grin.
Gray continues to enjoy getting in the kitchen and has added a few more talents to complement his plate. “I enjoy spending time outdoors, growing all sorts of vegetables in my garden,” he says of this passion which pairs perfectly with his love of cooking. But what about his favorite food and wine pairings? “Muscadet and Oysters was one of the first classic wine pairings I experienced, sounds cliché but it has always stuck with me. Sancerre and Goat cheese would be a close second.”
As far as wines on their own merits. “I love high Acid, fresh, clean white wines and rich, grippy, earthy reds. Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Rieslings, Picpoul de Pinet, Vinho Verde; Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir,” he says of his go to reds. “But honestly,” he adds, “I drink it all!”
How about a favorite wine region? “One of my favorite wine destinations still has to be the Okanagan Valley in BC. I have been several times and each time I go back it’s like I’m there for the first time again.
Fantastic wines, picturesque scenery, great people and top notch hospitality, it’s truly a wine region that fly’s under most people’s radar,” says Gray.
He also had a very unexpected wine experience in a different hemisphere. “I’d have to say taking a helicopter ride over vineyards in New Zealand has to take the top spot!” And speaking from experience, I wholeheartedly agree. Definitely one of the most thrilling adventures of The Mark Wine Camp New Zealand in 2018.
I was wondering what wine destination he hasn’t experienced yet but would love to and again, I totally agreed with him. “South Africa for sure!” Gray says, “I love the wines, culture, its wild nature and everything I’ve seen or been told about it.”
The day to day business grind also involves a lot of travel. “Chicago, Seattle, Austin, Memphis, Denver, Boston and back home to Toronto are some great work destinations I get to pass through and I have had the opportunity to catch a bit of what they have to prefer while doing so.” However, so much travel has also gotten quite a bit harder. “Now that I have two awesome young kids it’s proving difficult to be away from them for any extended period of time, but in my business the work is in the field,” he adds.
Knowing that dreams and lives come in different shapes and sizes. “I am a dreamer, but more importantly a go getter and I like to keep things real. I strive day after day to be successful, relevant, knowledgeable and a provider to my family.”