How to attract and retain chefs and cooks 

Provincial study 'really good news' for Whistler's hospitality industry, says Chamber

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - MAIN ATTRACTION Executive Chef Wolfgang Sterr and his vision for Whistler Blackcomb's revamped food and beverage offerings is one way the ski resort is able to attract qualified chefs and cooks.
  • File Photo
  • MAIN ATTRACTION Executive Chef Wolfgang Sterr and his vision for Whistler Blackcomb's revamped food and beverage offerings is one way the ski resort is able to attract qualified chefs and cooks.

The B.C. Government is launching an extensive labour market study in order to learn how to better attract, train and retain one of the hospitality industry's — and Whistler's — most in-demand occupations: cooks and chefs.

The $140,000 study will aim to identify "the skills required for in-demand cooks and chefs" along with how businesses can effectively recruit and retain employees long-term.

The report will also examine issues around employee wages, productivity, gratuities and job benefits.

"As part of the BC Jobs Plan, the tourism sector is experiencing tremendous growth and there's no surprise that we need to attract more cooks and chefs," said Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond in a release this week. "This study is one way we can ensure that B.C.'s labour force has what it needs in order to keep our economy growing."

The data gathered in the province's first ever cross-sector analysis of this occupational group — the study will not only focus on the hospitality and tourism industries, but other sectors that employ chefs and cooks as well — should be of particular interest to the resort community, explained Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin.

"Obviously better data drives better decisions and it will help us with better policy outcomes as well," he said. "It's really good news, especially for Whistler, because this data will serve us in our federal conversations as well."

With several restaurants and pubs in operation both on- and off-mountain, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) knows full well how crucial it is to fill culinary positions with talented people. The resort expanded its recruiting this year in an effort to target qualified chefs and cooks, with Executive Chef Wolfgang Sterr visiting culinary schools in B.C., Ontario and Quebec for the first time.

"There are not as many chefs and sous chefs out there as we'd like there to be so we need to be a bit more targeted in terms of being able to recruit them," explained Joel Chevalier, VP of employee experience at WB.

Once restaurants bring chefs into their kitchen, it's important to help them develop a sense of purpose, Litwin said.

"Historically what maybe a lot of businesses haven't offered is the opportunity for mastery, for growth in the position, the ability to learn new skills and move up the ladder," he noted.

To that end, Chevalier said WB is working on introducing a culinary apprenticeship program expected to be in place by next winter. He said the company is also looking at instituting Red Seal certification courses for chefs.

"We know that even with an amazing program, we may not be able to attract everyone we need, but if we can build from within, it's a positive piece," added Chevalier.

He's also hopeful the provincial labour study will show that Ottawa should do more to support the culinary industry.

"A few years ago we saw the federal government put in play interest-free loans for maintenance trade workers to be able to get their tickets," he said. "(Since) the hospitality and tourism industry is exploding, it would be great to see some financial support from the government in line with what they've provided to maintenance trades."

Ensuring cooks aren't simply clocking in for a paycheque, but actually taking pride in their work goes a long way towards long-term retention as well, Chevalier said. He also highlighted the work Sterr has done in recent years to transform WB's food and beverage offerings as another way the resort can attract elite talent — like the recent hiring of Steve Ramey, formerly of acclaimed Vancouver restaurant Hawksworth.

"(Sterr's) presence has been a really big influence on our ability to retain many of our chefs and sous chefs and additionally to be able to attract them," said Chevalier.

Representatives from the Restaurant Association of Whistler and Hotel Association of Whistler could not be reached by deadline.


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