Like many chefs before him, Chris Mills began his career in the humblest of kitchen jobs: washing dishes. But he soon established himself as a rising star among Canadian chefs, picking up several awards along the way and even appearing as a contestant on the original Japanese television series Iron Chef.
Now executive chef and vice president of culinary for Joey Restaurant Group, “I’m responsible for anything in the back of the house, anything food-wise, including water and coffee,” says Chris. His current job also entails kitchen design “for every restaurant we open. I work with the manufacturers to make sure every square inch of each kitchen is just right.”
Chris started with Joey as a consultant, joining the staff full-time four years later. In the years he has been with the company, he has helped institute many modifications. “Joey started in Calgary,” he says. “At that time, it was a pizza and pasta joint. Everyone agreed that it was time to make some changes.” The 18 restaurants under the Joey umbrella are now divided into groups by location, with regional chefs supervising two or three restaurants each. Chris works closely with each regional chef, coming up with training programs and overseeing the purchase of supplies and development of menus.
Prior to his currently “awesome” job with Joey Restaurant Group, Chris travelled the globe as a chef, and he continues to travel frequently in a work capacity. His introduction to the world of professional cooking was, however, fairly conventional.
“After three weeks as a dishwasher at age 14, I became a busboy at the Salmon House in Vancouver,” says Chris. “It was there I started to fall in love with the excitement of the business. It was a great job for a young guy, Everything was fun.”
That sense of fun has served Chris well, and he still loves the business. “I am massively passionate about the industry and about food,” he says. “Both have served me incredibly well. I’ve cooked in China, Thailand, Mexico, London and New York, and I’ve learned that the most important aspect of being a good chef is consistency. Consistency is everything — from buying the product, hiring the workforce, training your people and the execution of the product, there has to be consistency all around.”
His take on tourism in British Columbia is that generally it is done well from the top down. “Expo really opened doors for BC,” he says. “Tourism is a massively powerful industry, and it is just a natural for this part of the world. There is a simplicity to tourism here; we haven’t had to create a Disneyland.”
Chris’s advice for those considering a career in the restaurant business is to have patience and be prepared for a low salary initially. “It is such a high-profile industry right now,” he says, “with so many shows on TV, so many famous chefs. People have unreal expectations. The truth is, the business is full of rewards, but they are not always monetary. You must have a love for the industry.”
“Get your feet wet first. Shop around, too. Try different places,” he says. “The apprenticeship program here in BC is one of the best in the world, but it is important to learn on the job. Get with a chef who is committed to teaching. There is a lot more to this job than just what you learn in school. You need an open mind, but this industry offers a lot. I didn’t know when I started that it would be such a big world.”