Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Alumni stories- A golfer in chef whites

photos by Terry Asma; 2020studios
Chef Fred Smith is relaxed in the kitchen at Paris Grand Golf Club, even as a tournament gets ready to roll out on the course. Despite his mature years, he doesn't look like a man ready to slow down. 
"I've always said I'll leave when it stops being fun," says the Executive Chef, a graduate of Liaison Hamilton. 

He had already worked a full career- thirty-two years as a production mechanic with American Can Company & Ball Packaging - when the Hamilton factory where he was working shut down in 2000. Being an avid golfer, his first reaction to layoff was to head to Glancaster Golf Course. He hit the fairways three days a week, not to golf, but to cut the grass. When the season came to a close, he decided to pursue another of his passions – cooking.

His strategy for getting connected in the culinary field? He enrolled at Liaison Hamilton, immersed himself in his studies, and jumped on every opportunity to help with errands and catered events.

“I would advise all students to volunteer for every benefit function they can. I received several job offers from chefs during these events. You don't earn pay but the experience is a gold mine. Other chefs see you perform, you gain experience, and networking is invaluable in this business.”

Despite his expanding network, he planned to go back to cutting fairways after graduation. 

“Gene (co-owner at Liaison) really encouraged me to find work in a kitchen. He kept telling me, ‘You’re really good at this. You should try it out for a while.”

Chef Fred graduated top of his class in 2001, and landed a breakfast cook position at Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville.

“It was my first time in a professional kitchen, and stressful to be thrown in with the wolves.” Once he found his footing, though, he moved to Scenic Wood Golf Club. He has been Executive Chef at Paris Grand now for five seasons, handling weddings, banquets, parties and tournaments with his kitchen staff, and taking advantage of the free golf when he gets a few hours off.

Reflecting on his second career with satisfaction, he credits much of his success to the chefs that trained him. Still he has some cautionary words for anyone new to the culinary field. “It’s long hours and a lot of work for low wages and little thanks. If you don’t love it, if you don’t have the passion for it, get out now.”

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