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Anne-Marie Withenshaw

Our quintessential montrealer

By Jason Santerre

Anne-Marie Withenshaw loves life. Proof is in her signature smile. She’s smiling a lot these days, what with the recent birth of her second daughter, a story-book marriage to fellow TV personality Jay Walker, and a fulfilling career. Indeed, over a 20-year span mastering media, she can safely say she’s “been there, done that.”

That’s not to say she’s slowing down. Ms. Withenshaw still has many irons in the fire. And it’s her love for Montreal and all it offers that fuels her passion, her work ethic. Speaking of fuel, she says music and food, two things our city offers in abundance, help keep her inspired.

“Music was a big part of my upbringing,” says Ms. Withenshaw. “Both my dad and grandfather were professional musicians. I studied guitar, choir, and keys in college. I think I just enjoyed music more than the average kid.” Indeed, at the age of 12, she was already the world’s biggest Doors fan. “I was a real nerd about it. I didn’t just listen to the music, I devoured every book written about the band.”

And she’s a foodie by nature. She understands the nutritional importance of food, sure, but she also appreciates the social implications of time set aside for meals enjoyed with family and friends. “A good brunch should last from 11 to 4,” says the quintessential Montrealer.

“We’ve always lived on the island, from Anjou and Rosemont to the west end,” says Ms. Withenshaw, who adds that regardless of her address, she loves the “multicultural vibe” and having “a choice between English and French.”

Whether she’s attending the Grammys, Cannes or the Gemini Awards in Toronto, Ms. Withenshaw is a worthy ambassador for our city. “To me, a typical Montrealer is what I call ‘lazy ambitious,’ in other words, we like to keep busy but we need time to chill. When I visit Toronto, everyone’s so motivated. It’s go, go, go all the time.”

At home, food equals family time. With four mouths to feed and a constant parade of guests, good food marks every occasion. “Anytime someone comes over, ‘are you hungry?’ is always the first question.” Many of those callers are close friends and colleagues she met during her days as a VJ at MusiquePlus.

It was while studying journalism and communications at Concordia when a 21-year-old Ms. Withenshaw auditioned for an opening at the music network. It was the dawn of a new millennium and she was a fresh-faced, motivated music freak with plenty to prove.

“I remember my first big interview was David Bowie. I was already a huge fan so I knew my stuff. I wasn’t even nervous. I’ve always been like that. I love to talk and get to know people. I get more nervous making a dentist appointment.”

She remembers Mr. Bowie as a highly intelligent and confident interview. “He really had his finger on the pulse,” she recalls. “He even predicted social media and its impact in the future.” As for her own future, MusiquePlus was the first big foray in Quebec media.

From MusiquePlus, she moved to countless radio shows, a TV entertainment news show called Flash, her famous restaurant guide called Guide Resto Voir, C’est Juste de la TV, and much more.

Ms. Withenshaw is now a Gemini-nominated TV producer. Her production work on Chuck’s Day Off is paying off, thanks to her talents and her good pal, celebrity chef Chuck Hughes.

Does her own celebrity ever get in the way of enjoying family time or the city she loves so much? “If anyone approaches me, it’s usually young girls and their moms. I feel very comfortable with them. They always make me feel like a friend.”

She says her five-year-old daughter isn’t all that impressed by so-called fame. “So many of our friends are in the business, so she thinks everyone gets their photo in magazines.”

That down-to-earth attitude goes a long way in keeping both Ms. Withenshaw and her husband grounded, despite their faces and voices being omnipresent on Quebec’s airwaves.

Focusing on family helps. “We’re really mindful of how we raise our kids,” she says. “These days, parents have to navigate so many pitfalls from social media and the internet. It just makes us more open and honest with our kids and, in turn, hopefully they’re more open and honest with us.”

Of course, the Withenshaw-Walker household covets family time. It’s a precious commodity, what with both parents being so busy. That’s why mealtime is paramount. It’s got to be tasty, nutritious, and not too time-consuming.

No wonder Ms. Withenshaw’s recent business venture involves GoodFood, a company born out of a goal to get more people preparing delicious and healthy meals at home. “I really like the “Clean15” meals. Indian Spiced chicken thighs or honey-mustard trout offer low-carb, high-protein meals with tons of flavour and ready in 30 minutes. For our family, its a timesaver and a life changer,” says Ms. Withenshaw. “I never have to ask what’s for supper tonight.”

The gig as spokeswoman allowed the whole family to do a GoodFood commercial together. Pretty cool! And with food and family taken care of, Ms. Withenshaw seeks to give back to the community that nurtured her. Best of all, it involves her first love, music.

“I skipped a grade when I was young and so I started high school at the age of 11, so I remember how it feels being an awkward, weirdo teenager,” she says. “Music helped me overcome so much, so today, with the Evenko Foundation, we encourage kids to stay in school with free music lessons and scholarships. It’s great seeing the impact art can have on a young person’s life.”

Today, more young people have a chance to grow up enriched and eventually contribute to our great city. The recipe’s not written in stone, but whatever makes a Montrealer a Montrealer, it’s thanks to people like Ms. Withenshaw who take what the city has to offer, use it, make it their own, and then give back something bigger and better.

 

Spring 2019, Vol 11 N°2

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