Stephanie works closely with West’s executive chef to plan the restaurant’s menu. She liaises with ingredient suppliers, manages inventory, and performs all required cooking functions. She worked up to her current role by gaining on-the-job experience in each area of the kitchen.
“I began with hot and cold starters [appetizers] did garnishes, then fish, meats and sauce,” she explains. “I worked eight to ten months in each job. I also spent two days a week, for a year, learning bread-making. Now, I can work every station, and I have the flexibility to cover any shift.”
Apart from cooking, much of Stephanie’s role includes training and supervising others. She says it’s important in her job to be able to explain things well, and to have a lot of patience, because junior team members ask many questions. However, that interaction is part of what she enjoys most.
“We communicate constantly,” she says. “In this environment, it’s impossible to work by yourself. I love the atmosphere: it’s all teamwork, and because you spend so much time together, you become very close. It becomes just like a family.”
Stephanie was hired at West after graduating from cooking school in her native Montreal. The program paired technical cooking skills with business management training, which Stephanie believes is a vital element.
“It’s very important to learn management skills in addition to cooking,” she says. “My program covered computer skills, how to plan menus and do inventory, and aspects of human resources, restaurant security, wine and service. If you want to be an executive chef or open your own restaurant someday, you’ll need those business skills.”
Stephanie’s biggest challenge is the same as her goal: to always make customers happy. “Sometimes customers ask for unusual things, and you can’t really say ‘no.’ But, I want them to have the best dining experience they’ve ever had. So it’s my job to make sure the food is always fresh, hot and properly seasoned, and that customers leave happy.”
For those considering this career, Stephanie recommends careful consideration of the work environment. “It’s a different lifestyle: I work 12-hour shifts and get to bed at 2:00 a.m. Physically, it’s very demanding. You have to be strong, and you have to work in the heat. And mentally, there’s a lot of stress. But if you have a passion for food and for wanting to make people happy, it’s great. And I figure there will always be jobs for cooks, because people will always eat!”