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Fresh-faced foodies follow different paths to success

According to three culinary school grads, word of mouth is the best way to find secure employment.

Andrea Lee graduated from Vancouver Community College's culinary arts program in 2005.

Andrea Lee always knew she wanted to cook. She grew up helping out in the kitchen at home and she excelled in foods classes in high school. After graduating she took the next natural step and enrolled in culinary school.

Andrea is not unlike many other culinary school graduates. But what happens after these graduates have realized their dreams and finished school? How do they break into the culinary industry, and with such a range of food and beverage establishments, how do aspiring chefs decide where they want to work to learn about their trade?

For some cooks, this decision is made for them based on what jobs they can find once they are out of school. Andrea got her first taste of the industry as a dishwasher, and then as a prep cook, before she moved onto the line and finally into management.

Other aspiring chefs go a different route, choosing guaranteed employment straight out of school, even if it’s volunteer employment. Ella Kaminski is a recent graduate of the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver and is in the middle of an internship at Culinary Capers, one of Canada’s most well-known catering companies. Ella is taking full advantage of her school's internship placement program to learn all that she can about catering in a short amount of time.

Ella didn’t have a lot of culinary experience when she started school, and felt that doing an internship would allow her to continue to develop her skills. She chose a company that produces something different every day, instead of standing on the line at a restaurant where she would be preparing the same dishes over and over. 

In an industry where hours and working conditions vary widely, how do these cooks choose which companies they want to work for? For Andrea, this was easy. She had just come off a job where she was working an average of 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and was looking for something a little more sane and stable. She started working for a company where her shifts are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Another factor that attracted Andrea to her current company is that she was joining a group of long-term employees; her manager has been with the company 12 years. With the notably high turnover rate in the food and beverage industry, this was a refreshing change for Andrea.

For another aspiring chef, this was the same factor that drew him to his current employer: Dana Hospitality. Dana runs corporate kitchens, almost like high-end cafeterias. Employees stay with Dana long term, and enjoy their working conditions, comfortable team atmosphere and Monday to Friday shifts.

These three students of food all went to different culinary schools in Metro Vancouver, where they completed training to become entry-level fine dining cooks. While they came from different schools, they all have a common factor in their search for chef-dom: the desire for stability. All three were drawn to companies with strong histories, reputations for providing long-term employment and good working conditions.

When it comes to finding these jobs, prospective employees have a number of options, but the one that seems the most common in this industry is word of mouth. Sure, Craigslist is a strong resource for job searches, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t let people know if they will actually be working eight-hour days as promised, or if shifts are actually twelve hours each. It doesn’t tell people if their prospective employers will respect them, or treat them like the lowest of the low. Companies are essentially vouched for when mentioned through word of mouth, and someone who is interested in securing employment can often find out more about a company from a previous employee then they could during an official interview.

With more and more students enrolling in culinary schools and the amount of trained cooks on the rise, employers really have their pick of the crop. Still, technology and word-of-mouth networks mean new chefs no longer have to wait to be harvested.

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