Joey Chinook on Macleod Trail just recently underwent a huge renovation to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary. Complete with a huge titled brick accent wall and slick central bar, the new and gorgeous look is just the icing on the cake for the casual fine dining restaurant chain that has found massive success across Canada and even in American cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.
When you “cut” deeper, you find out that what makes companies like this so successful, or for the last quarter century for Joey Restaurants anyway, are dedicated and inspiring employees.
Kevin Wall, a regional chef for the Alberta area is one of them. Sitting down at a high top table of the newly renovated space, Wall opens up about some of his first jobs, how they shaped his character and helped him to become the chef and mentor to young cooks that he is today.
What was your very first job?
I was a paperboy. When I was 8 years old, my dad would take me every Sunday at 4 a.m. to hand out newspapers. My parents are very hard workers and they instilled a strong work ethic in me when I was a child…. Oh, I also mowed lawns every weekend making $20 per lawn.
What were the most important lessons you took from your first jobs that you would say you still use today in the kitchen?
When you are young, you are tempted to give up easily when times are challenging. I learned the importance of embracing work and going through the experiences without giving up…Failure is also important to our development. I burnt a lot of food, and if I hadn’t, I would never truly appreciate the value of it. When you understand what it is like to lose something, you tend to treat the next experience with a lot more care, and respect. In our business, we often don’t get second chances.
What was the first culinary skill that you learned that impressed people around you?
Knife skills! As a chef, I deal with large volumes of work and knowing how to use knives effectively is absolutely essential. I remember, my mom asked me to chop the carrots for dinner [when I was a teenager], and she was pretty impressed with the speed of my work.
Describe your career in a nutshell.
My career has been a life-long learning lesson. I dropped out of high school when I was 17 and went right into the restaurant industry to work full time. I started at Earls, Chilliwack, in 1996 as an expeditor in the kitchen. I had a loud voice that I could project and that was a great asset starting out there. I opened my first restaurant when I was 23 years old and I’ve been cooking professionally full-time for 21 years now.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your career?
It was deciding to open my first restaurant back in BC. Once the time came to sign the paper work that had money involved, it was a very eye-opening moment. I knew that if I mess this up, there’s no one else to blame but myself.
You have two young kids at home, so what is the first job you hope they’ll take on when they’re older? Where do you believe they would get the best first experience?
The first job I want my kids to try is the one that brings them the most joy. Different places give us all different life lessons. The hospitality industry teaches us to be responsible and respectful to other people’s needs, but it might not teach the same level of precision as a jobs [in other fields]. I hope that the first job they will try will be the one that leaves them empowered and motivated to choose what is really valuable and important for them.