By Virginia Heffernan
“I find more and more our guests are looking for healthy options, but our daily offering of French fries still gets a good amount of attention.”
Chef Terry Multhauf, pictured second from left, is no stranger to catering for large crowds. He was part of a special unit responsible for feeding security personnel – including the RCMP and U.S. military – at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The 53-year-old former restaurant owner moved to Encana's Sunset Prairie Lodge near Dawson Creek, BC, last year to oversee food production for hundreds of workers. He operates on a 20/10 rotation, spending days off with his two young boys in Victoria. Multhauf gave Mining Family Matters some insights about what it takes work in the kitchen of a FIFO operation.
Q: How did you end up as a chef at Sunset Prairie?
A: I was born in Southern California and have lived in a few western states and in British Columbia where I attended culinary school at Malaspina College in Nanaimo. In 1995 I opened a restaurant in Vancouver with three partners called the Rex Rotisserie & Grill. We operated for 13 years and then I found my way up north. After a five-year stint in Alberta’s oil sands working as a remote lodging chef, I landed the job with Outland (a remote camp housing and catering company), which placed me here at Sunset Prairie Lodge.
Q: What do you like about working as a chef in a remote camp?
A: I cannot lie – the salary is what initially brought me up north – but the schedule is amazing once you get used to it. Who gets 10 days off each month in a row? The latter part of my city experience working with Peake of Catering in Vancouver (the Olympics gig) got me very interested in large volume catering, so it was a good fit.
Q: What are the challenges?
A: Scheduling and hiring remotely. We rely on all sorts of transportation to get our (19) team members here and inevitably there are hiccups along the way. Weather can play havoc on food deliveries as well but for the most part our broadline supplier is very reliable.
Q: Describe what a typical day looks like for you.
A: A typical day starts around 7 or 8am depending how big the delivery is. There is a certain amount of administration that needs attention each day, the most important being the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) program. We track our deliveries at many stages along the way from delivery and proper rotation all the way to consumption and even waste. I don’t get to cook as much as I like, but that just comes with the territory. I quite enjoy the teaching aspect of the job so there’s big motivation to get my admin duties out of the way so I can put a knife in my hand.
Q: What are your most popular meals?
A: We focus on comfort food and stick to the basics mostly. Roast beef, pork, chicken, steak nights & pastas in the winter months are the most popular. We also have a satellite kitchen where we produce a stir-fry and some kind of hot sandwich each night. When both dining halls were open, we operated a six-spit rotisserie to make prime rib, pork shoulder and whole chickens. On occasion we will produce a simple dahl or chick pea curry – they are quite popular, even with our heartiest meat eaters. I find more and more of our guests are looking for healthy options, but our daily offering of French fries still gets a good amount of attention.
Q: What do you consider the most important personality traits for a cook/chef in a remote camp?
A: A positive outlook, stamina, and a very good sense of teamwork. We all work 10-12 hours per day for 20 days straight, so exercising, eating the right foods and getting the proper amount of rest all contribute to a successful kitchen brigade. If you do not take care of your body you will quickly wear out. Most cooks have no issues with the daily hours but the 20 days away from home is not for everyone. There is a well-stocked workout facility and games room as well as very good cellular phone service and WiFi, so staying in touch with my boys is a daily ritual that helps me immensely.
Q: What advice would you give someone seeking a job as a cook/chef in a remote camp?
A: Other than the basics of FoodSafe (a food handling certificate issued in BC) and a little food service experience, all I would suggest is a well-written resumé outlining your experience and willingness to work hard. High volume catering experience is always a plus. There are many remote lodging companies that operate all over Canada. It’s just a matter of searching the internet, reaching out and being diligent at following up in a reasonable amount of time to remind employers you are ready and willing to work.
More gems from Virginia:
- Working lives set to change as labour shortage looms
- Oil sands workers embrace renewable energy future
- These mines need you!
- Gender equality: lofty goals aim to push past harsh realities
- Good reads: oil rig dramas and northern escapades
- Up, up and away: cruising to work in an airship
- Aboriginal youth join the FIFO family
- When it comes to working away, how long is too long?
- Elsa Nielsen: a woman who knows her place
- Cheer up. Your skills have staying power
- Summer reading: true tales from the wild
- Wages, training and a short commute: why more aboriginals should consider the FIFO lifestyle
- FIFO parenting: four things I wish I’d done differently
- Keep calm and dig on
- Winter essentials for FIFO workers
- Welcome to Cameco's McArthur River mine: a day in the life of FIFO workers
- Life is one long holiday for Alberta geologist
- When you're a FIFO couple, carefully considering how many children to have, is one really the loneliest number?
- Keeping the fears at bay when your partner works away
Virginia Heffernan is a former exploration geologist who met her Welsh husband when they were both working on a gold project in Namibia. They live in Toronto with their teenage son. Virginia mostly stays put these days (she's now a freelance writer and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), but Roger continues on his global quest for the next big ore deposit. To check out Virginia's work, visit www.geopen.com.