Reflecting - Lessons Learned Under the Rocky Mountain Skies

As I continue to reflect on my journey in the food service industry, I am reminded of each and every one of the lessons learned along the way. Sometimes I learned through the wise words of mentors and other times I learned from mistakes and hardships, but regardless, every lesson was learned for a reason. During my time at the Ontario Club I completed all of the required training to obtain my Red Seal Certification as a Chef and I was looking for my next adventure. I was young at the time, about 22 years old and single, and with a 4 to 1 ratio of women to men in Lake Louise, Alberta I knew where I wanted to work next. 

It was early April when I boarded the train and headed west to the Chateau Lake Louise. On the train I had a sleeper cabin, but I spent most of my time in the sky car taking in all of the sights I could between here and there. Thinking back, it was just like what you see in the movies with many passengers gathered in the sky car and someone playing Rocky Mountain High by John Denver as we rolled through the Rockies. A truly memorable journey for me. As the train rolled to a stop at my destination, I remember seeing this path shoveled through the snow to get from the train to the hotel. The snow had built up to be way over my head and though it sure was beautiful there, I quickly began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

The tourist season had not yet begun, but the preparations for another busy year were well underway and we were brought in to feed the construction crews who were putting in some long days of work. The room that I stayed in would normally be $212 a night which, thinking back, was a lot at that time. Especially for a room that was decorated like a grandmother’s bedroom with flowered wallpaper, an old bed and an antique dresser. When I went out there I had the expectation of it being a high class hotel, but much to my surprise it really wasn’t.

As a new journeyman Red Seal Chef I ended up being one of the most qualified people on staff. I went out there to be an assistant sauce cook with hopes of learning some more great lessons and was quickly taken aback when I realized that nothing was made from scratch. It was all pre-mixed items that we simply had to mix or heat and serve. My boss was a 17 year old from Quebec and to be honest, he knew nothing. After complaining of inadequacies I was promoted to Assistant Sous Chef, but they did not like me much for voicing my concerns. So there I was as 3rd in command, I guess having come from the Ontario Club I just couldn’t believe that people were paying so much for such low quality food.

In the end, my experience in Lake Louise was great and I experienced a very beautiful part of Canada. I learned to take the experience in stride and make the most of it. I’ll never forget my days off spent hitchhiking to Banff to get the best sandwich I had ever tasted or my days spent preparing meals for some of the elites who stayed with us. Perhaps one of the most memorable was Conservative MP and eventual Prime Minister of Canada, Joe Clark. I recall being in a ballroom listening to the hotel manager tell the entire staff that it was important that we voted for Joe Clark because he was the MP who allowed our hotel to be located within a provincial park. Now, I was a bit of a revolutionary, and somewhat naive so to be told to vote for someone specific left me once again questioning the CP Hotel’s values. I realized later the hotel was there to make money and they had it down to a science. The majority of the employees were students on their first jobs away from home, cheap labour, dormitory living and most were just happy to be there,it wasn't their career. My expectations were different,I came to learn and I did, not just cooking but life skills.

I ended up finishing the rest of the summer season with the hotel before leaving and never looking back. I’d made some friends and some memories, but I was young and looking for more. I wanted to face challenges and provide people with dining experiences like they hadn’t had before. At the time, I guess I thought I might find these challenges in Vancouver so off I went, but that’s a story for another day.

Until next time,


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