At an age when many new graduates are thinking about their first job, 18-year-old Mark Jang is already well on his way to a culinary career. After less than two years with the Cactus Club Cafe, Jang, a newly qualified Professional Cook 2 (PC2), is a Junior Sous Chef and a Shift Leader, supervising eight line cooks at the popular chain’s busy Richmond location.
Jang started at the Cactus Club through the ACE IT (Accelerated Credit Enrolment in Industry Training) program at Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School. Through the program, which enables high school students to start apprenticeships, the aspiring chef qualified as a Professional Cook 1 (PC1) just weeks after his 2013 graduation. This year, after his six-week PC2 technical training at Vancouver Community College plus an additional 1,000 hours at the Cactus Club, Jang is now a certified PC2 and a valuable player on the restaurant’s kitchen team.
The new qualification has brought fresh challenges, says Jang. “Now that I’m a PC2, my boss gave me more responsibility. I’m now a shift leader; my job is to encourage the team and be the go-to guy with any questions they have.”
That leadership ability is a key difference between PC1s and PC2s, observes Jang’s employer, Cactus Club’s Senior Chef, Phill Mudge.
“PC2s have more of a knowledge base, but the real difference comes from experience — those extra hundreds of hours in the kitchen that help them become more organized, more consistent, and more proactive. In Level 2, they get faster, they’re better able to multi-task, and they’ve encountered more situations. It’s about seeing a butter sauce split and knowing how to fix it.”
Adds Mudge: “Rob Feenie (Cactus Club’s Executive Chef and an Iron Chef America Champion) once said, ‘It’s not difficult to make a delicious dish one time; the skill comes in making a delicious dish the same way hundreds of times’.”
PC2s can, and that level of consistency makes them invaluable in any kitchen. Top management at the Cactus Club Restaurants recognizes this. Named one of the Platinum Club of Canada’s best managed companies for seven years running, the fast-growing 25-location chain is BC’s biggest employer of culinary apprentices.
Supporting employees through their training develops their skills, of course, but it also helps with retention, observes Mudge. “Our turnover is half the industry average and we have a number of staff members who’ve been here for many years.”
Jang, for example, is in for the long haul. “I’m almost a Sous Chef now. My next step is to gain more experience, train a bit more, and then complete my PC3 and become a Red Seal Chef,” he says.
A restaurant environment, with its constant change and high-energy vibe, isn’t for everyone, but passionate cooks like Jang wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a great career if you’re truly passionate about food. You’re in a fast-paced environment, you meet awesome people, and you get to work with food— and at the end of the day, it’s all about the food.”