Transforming Kitchen Culture at VCC
As a young chef in Switzerland, VCC honorary alumnus Bruno Marti recalls a men-only kitchen culture of intimidation and competition where apprentices did their assigned work and little more. Bruno, who began cooking as a teenager, tells stories of spying from a staircase just to learn the recipe for his chef's coveted Café de Paris butter.
A few decades later in Delta, B.C., Bruno had established his famed countryside restaurant La Belle Auberge and earned a reputation as one of the region's top culinary mentors.
At seventeen, VCC culinary arts student Scott Jaeger was one of Bruno's first apprentices. While Scott admits to conducting investigations of his own to unearth certain recipes, he also considers Bruno to be one of the most generous chefs in the business. "He would help us out in a heartbeat," says Scott.
For Bruno, departing from a cutthroat kitchen was ultimately due to his love of cooking. "If you're not happy, you're not a good cook," he says. "I was happy mentoring. Eventually, your apprentices make you look better, too, so why would you not?"
Today, in his own Burnaby fine-dining restaurant The Pear Tree, Scott carries on Bruno's mentorship tradition, which, continues to diverge from the stereotypical "cook culture" of overwork and burnout. Scott says his apprentices' enthusiasm is what keeps him striving for excellence. "Young chefs are what keep me alive and wanting to do this," he says.
Award-winning VCC alumna and The Pear Tree apprentice Leah Patitucci has already worked in several notable restaurants throughout her training, including Hawksworth and Temper Chocolate & Pastry. She finds that if a kitchen has a good teaching environment, everyone contributes. "It's a family feel," she says.
The chefs also agree that, during any labour shortage, a restaurant's culture plays a major role in retaining good staff. Alongside openness and respect, Scott also believes in finding smarter ways to cope with a sparse workforce, like adjusting opening hours rather than simply asking employees to work harder. "You need a balance," he says. "I want everyone to still love what they do at the end of the day."