I never thought I was going to get into cooking. I thought I was going into something you needed a university course for. Luckily enough I was in a high school that had a co-op program, they let you do three hours a day, three days a week. I thought I wanted to go into Radiology, and I found I absolutely could not stand any second I spent in that building.
My mother was a caterer when I was a child. She had three daughters and we were her little sous chefs, ever since we were two feet tall. I never thought I’d be any good at it or be able to make a living at it, but after my experience with Radiology, I needed something to do so I applied for school at St. Claire in Windsor.
At 19 I got a job in a little Italian restaurant that terrified me. The Chef made me drop out of school: I went to work one day and everyone had quit and he said, “You work for me now, no more school”. I was so afraid of him I never even thought of going back to school. I saw him chase people out of the restaurant with knives…
I ended up replacing Chef when I was 21. I got pretty good at it and could take the pressure, and I found I work better under pressure. The restaurant, Bona, was a 65 seater in La Salle, ON, and I had about 5 employees, but I got to a point where I thought, OK, I’ve mastered this, what’s next?
I made a deal with my parents that I would write my Red Seal before I left Ontario. I did and moved out to Alberta. I wanted to come because of the mountains. I never planned to stay, but I got here and absolutely fell in love with the place.
Not many people know how difficult it is to cook in such a transient town. It’s a totally different animal, you go from your slowest week to your busiest back to back and you have to make sure you make a profit in both scenarios, when you don’t have staff that stick around more than a season and you’re always training them. I worked night for a year, then day for a year, then became Chef.
You really build a family here, not just a bunch of day cooks or night cooks. Everyone has left their family behind to come out here for whatever reasons. You get to use all their different strengths and fill in the holes with their weaknesses and it becomes a strong team. It’s great going into battle with a bunch of people you’d never put together in a million years, and we can go through a twenty grand night and absolutely get our buts kicked and still have a great time, laughing and having fun in the kitchen. Banff is a bit of a party town and it will suck you in if you let it, but if you can avoid the turbulence you can be on top of your game in no time. At the end of the day you’re cooking food: it’s not brain surgery, we’re just here to make people happy.
We have a great system, great purchasing power, great head office, we can get the best quality produce all the time, so why be stressed? My kitchen has more windows than any other I’ve ever seen. Saltlik is very invested in personal growth and I’ve gone to some great training courses. Treat your staff with respect, have a happy environment, have a fun time at work, you get good results, and that’s one of my biggest strengths. A stressful environment is not conducive to getting consistently good food. I like to have fun at my work and people know that. Egos don’t belong in my kitchen and a really good team will always have your back and I have theirs.
By Fred Holliss