Restaurant workers who keep it all running

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You know those articles about celebrity chefs who parade about on the Food Network? This isn’t one of them. Rather, this is about the restaurant workers who get no glory. It highlights the individuals who work steadfastly, passionately, and humbly, often with little recognition other than an occasional pat on the back from their managers. They’re the backbone of a restaurant, the engine that keeps the whole machine moving forward, but sadly, their contributions remain largely invisible to the average diner.

When the Straight called up people in the restaurant industry to ask them to single out a few of these local unsung heroes, we received a powerful response. This outpouring of enthusiasm wasn’t just because there’s an excess of candidates. It’s indicative of an industry that relies on workers who are frequently taken for granted by the general public and go unacknowledged by the food media.

Tony Minichiello, owner of and instructor at the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver (2725 Main Street), is passionate about refocusing attention from so-called celebrity chefs onto everyday workers. “The fact that we have to write about our unsung heroes tells us there is an issue. There shouldn’t be any unsung heroes. Everyone who cooks your food should be a hero,” he says during a phone interview. Minichiello is disgusted by the glorification on reality TV of diva chefs who belittle and abuse their staff. He feels that this has led to a belief by the public that it’s okay for restaurant staff to work long, arduous hours for little thanks and little pay. “It’s too bad they have to make a large sacrifice. We’re not in a Dickens novel,” he says.

Here, we take a look at three people—a sous-chef, a prep cook, and a server—who represent the thousands of unsung heroes in Vancouver’s food and beverage services. These individuals know all too well what it means to start off in an entry-level position in the industry, work like crazy, and through lots of elbow grease and stick-it-out determination take on more and more responsibility. They may not be as high-profile as those at the very top of the restaurant chain of command, but these are the people who keep restaurants across the city running day in, day out.

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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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