It’s a Friday night and Joe Fortes is buzzing. One of Vancouver’s iconic restaurants, the 29-year-old Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House serves up to a thousand covers on a busy night. Behind the scenes, a 70-staff kitchen runs around the clock, providing not only great meals, but also plenty of opportunities for aspiring chefs.
Among them is 24-year-old Tommy Shorthouse. The newly certified Professional Cook 3 (PC3 or Red Seal) cook is a four-year veteran at Joe Fortes. In May 2014, after completing his PC3 apprenticeship training at Vancouver Community College, Shorthouse landed a promotion to the role of Chef de Partie.
The job, as an assistant to the Sous Chef, is a key role in a large kitchen like Joe Fortes’. Besides supervising line cooks and passing instructions on from the Sous Chef team, Shorthouse also tracks stock and orders supplies.
It’s a big change from his role as a Professional Cook 2 (PC2). “With the Red Seal you learn more advanced cooking techniques and you also become more of a leader in the kitchen,” he says.
“Our chef team has given me lots of help in regard to cooking, and they’ve also helped me learn food costing, menu planning and ordering. I never thought I’d be in charge of ordering or even doing control on some nights for a multimillion-dollar restaurant; it’s great that they have such faith in me.”
PC3s or Red Seal Chefs have an additional six weeks of classroom training, plus 3,000 additional workplace hours, over the PC2s. Their cooking skills are excellent but the key difference lies in their management skills, explains Joe Fortes’ Executive Chef Wayne Sych.
“Once our cooks reach the PC3 level we start getting them more involved in the business side of the restaurant, including costing items, point of sale systems, and menu development. Basically, PC2s know food, PC3s are getting to know the business,” he says.
Joe Fortes has been a big supporter of apprenticeships for most of its history. In fact Shorthouse is one of six cooks to complete their Red Seal there in the last two years.
The benefits flow both ways, says Sych: “We get stability in our kitchen, we have a better retention rate among people who take the program, and we attract people – the apprenticeship program is seen as a benefit.”
Joe Fortes General Manager, Scott Garrett, agrees: “We have the apprenticeship program because we want to invest in our people. We make sure that anybody who wants to go through the program, and qualifies for it, can do it.”
For Shorthouse the work and commitment needed to get his Red Seal were a good investment too: “It’s one of the best tools you can have. It’s so worth it to have the knowledge and skills to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk when you enter the kitchen.”