Despite fears of a recession and restaurants closing weekly, Calgary is facing a severe shortage of experienced line-cooks.
Steve Hauschka, executive chef at The Yardhouse pub on Kensington Road N.W., said that restaurants everywhere are “struggling to find professional cooks.”
One of the major problems head chefs face are facing in finding experienced staff is simple economics.
Starting kitchen wages in Calgary have dropped $2-3 over the past five years, in a city that can be expensive to live in.
“I remember six or eight years ago, restaurants were offering $15 per hour starting. Now it’s closer to $12,” said Hauschka.
“Cooks can’t live off that. Not in this city.”
For some, cooking can be a passion. However, most cooks aren’t working in the kitchen for the love of food but merely to get by.
While professional cooking is becoming a popular career choice, many culinary school graduates aren’t prepared for the demands of the industry, making the employee shortage worse.
“Culinary school grads that haven’t worked in this industry before graduating are the most likely to flop,” said Hauschka.
“This industry is not for the faint of heart.”
With the slow season for restaurants coming to an end, the crisis in Calgary will only get worse, especially with many golf courses expecting to open early this year, thanks to the warm winter.
“We are only a month out from the start of our golf season and we still have three to six vacancies we need to fill,” says Ronin Sonmor, executive chef at Carnmoney Golf and Country Club.
Golf courses, especially those operated privately, are one of the biggest employers of experienced cooks in the city. They offer better wages, more flexible hours, and more leisure time than downtown restaurants.
This combination makes them the ideal home for the best and most experienced cooks, pulling them from other establishments in the city.
“I can’t imagine how hard it must be for some of the smaller courses and restaurants to find staff for this year.
“If we can’t find the staff we need everywhere else must be in dire straits,” said Sonmor.