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VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Aug. 11 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Last updated Monday, Aug. 11 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Derek Gray’s career in the kitchen began with one simple goal: to learn to cook for himself. Growing up, the Richmond, B.C., resident recalled cupboards stocked with canned goods and dinners of burnt roasts and overcooked fish – meals that left something to be desired in a boy with a burgeoning curiosity and interest in food.
“I was like, ‘I need to cook for myself,’” he recounted with a chuckle.
After a high school cooking class, Mr. Gray entered the work force as a junior cook in a couple of local kitchens.
He then enrolled in a program at Vancouver’s Northwest Culinary Academy, graduating to work under chef Neil Taylor at Vancouver’s Cibo Trattoria Italian restaurant.
Soon after, he accepted a job as sous chef at Espana, a tapas restaurant in Vancouver’s West End, which he took over as head chef earlier this year.
As a cook, Mr. Gray said the most challenging part of his job was the hours: Some restaurants would pay a paltry day rate for what would end up being a 12-hour shift, he said. As head chef, it is the multitasking: planning the menu, food costing, managing and mentoring a team of junior cooks.
In both roles, the best part is the same: making patrons happy with delicious food.
“Where I work now, when I hear someone from Spain say the food reminds them of Spain, I feel like we’ve done our job,” he said.
From now through 2022, B.C. is expected to have about 13,600 job openings for cooks, according to government statistics.
In 2006 – the most recent year for which census statistics are available – 55 per cent of the work force was male. Workers were divided relatively evenly across age groups: 35 per cent between the ages of 15 and 24, 36 per cent between 25 and 44 and 28 per cent between 45 and 64.
To those considering pursing the career, Mr. Gray recommends staging at a restaurant to get a feel for the work.
“Try it at a restaurant whose food you like. Go in, ask the chef if you can work a day for free,” he said. “You’ll get an understanding of how the kitchen is run, what the work is like. A lot of people think what they see on the Food Network is what a restaurant is like, and that is far from the truth.”
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