Restaurant workers who keep it all running

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Kevin Atkinson, a sous-chef at the Hamilton Street Grill (1009 Hamilton Street), is hard to get hold of at home since he can be at the restaurant up to 60 hours in any given week. Atkinson has worked his way up from line cook churning out orders in the kitchen to equally industrious sous-chef, a position that includes the added responsibilities of supervising and scheduling staff, helping with menu development, and monitoring inventory levels. His name may not appear at the bottom of the menu, but he’s there nightly making sure that he and the other kitchen staff are always on top of their game.

Once the Straight reaches him, he’s straightforward and sincere. He describes his career path: how he began dishwashing at the Pendulum restaurant at UBC, and then moved on to do prep for campus catering. Three-and-a-half years ago, he trained in the culinary-diploma program at Northwest Culinary, signing up with the Hamilton Street Grill after graduation. In the works is a stint in Italy, where he’ll pick up skills he can apply to an Italian restaurant kitchen when he returns.

There’s a quiet self-assurance to Atkinson as he looks back on his career: “I’ve definitely noticed a huge change since I started, in the speed of everything, how much faster I can do everything, how much calmer I am when things really start to get busy.” Although he loves his job, there are times when he finds it pretty rough working late at night, and when the temperature in the kitchen can become unbearable. Why does he return? “I really like handling food, and every day is different. It’s pretty awesome.”

Atkinson is fortunate to work for a boss he admires—chef and owner Neil Wyles. Wyles describes Atkinson as a dedicated learner who takes his work home with him, experimenting during his off-hours with cured sausages for the menu. Wyles, no slacker himself, speaks to the Straight by cellphone as he rushes from errand to errand. As head chef, he compares himself to a pharmaceutical inventor who is indebted to staff for mass production: “I make the first pill. They make the next billion.” A serious note creeps into his voice, though, when he’s asked about the demands of the profession on those who aren’t at the level of an executive chef: “It’s hard for them to have a family life.”

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Tony Fox
Great article - we often see a restaurant as being inextricably linked to that chef's name on the menu, but forget there's a whole cadre of people who help make that chef's vision appear on the table. Thanks for sharing these stories, and I hope we see more of them!
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