By Vanessa Grillone, WorkStory Contributor
Richard Hakim is a twenty-six year old Executive Sous Chef at One, a Mark McEwan restaurant in Yorkville. Impressive, right? Well, Richard was born with a spatula in his hand. With a passion for food, the patience to cook it right, and the creativity to see food differently, Richard has made a name for himself in the culinary world.
Although he spent his youth watching cooking shows and helping his mother in the kitchen, Richard’s professional training began at Humber College. Richard enrolled in a Chef Training Certificate at Humber College right after high school. After completing that one-year certificate, he decided to take Culinary Management. This program would take one more year but Richard knew it would be beneficial to learn both sides of the industry. Richard enjoyed his time at Humber and chose it because he heard many good things about the program. The Humber Room, the college restaurant, was his favourite class. There he met his wife and got a feel for working in a restaurant. Butchery was another favourite class of his, breaking down whole proteins really intrigued him.
As part of the Humber Certificate, each student must complete a co-op at another restaurant. Richard worked at the Marriott Hotel downtown for two months. Even though he enjoyed his time there and worked with great people, he learned that the hotel industry was not the cooking route he wanted to follow. So, he applied to One and found himself in his element. In the kitchen there are six stations, pantry (cold foods), hot appetizers, veggies, pasta, sauce and grill. Twenty-year-old Richard started on pantry, worked hard and absorbed everything his chefs told him. By age twenty-three, after working his way up through the various stations, he was promoted to Jr. Sous Chef. His hard work and dedication to cooking continued and Richard was made an Executive Sous Chef last year.
For Richard, the best part of cooking is about making people happy, “It means the world to me when I send out a dish and get amazing feedback from the customers. It reassures me that I'm in the right career”. He also loves transforming ingredients into dishes that could potentially be on the menu. He loves to create delicious and aesthetically pleasing meals. “The worst part of being a chef”, he says “are the hours but in order to move up in the cooking industry you have to put in a lot of time”.
For all aspiring chefs, Richard has some advice:
“Be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices – I’ve missed a lot of family functions and time away from the people I love most for my job. You have to be willing to work very hard and make a balance in your work life and home life. Most importantly, you need to have a passion for cooking in order to succeed.”
“When I was in fourth year, I lived in a house on Piccadilly Street; now I just moved into a place less than a block away,” said Hodgson, who started teaching (trumpet) at Western this fall. “I really have come full circle, working in the same building and living in the same neighbourhood. If you told me during my undergrad I would be teaching here, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s funny – and great – how things happen.”
An accomplished solo, chamber and orchestral musician, Hodgson has been praised for his lyrical playing in his short career. He has been broadcast nationally as a soloist by CBC Radio’s The Signal, his orchestral performances include appearances with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and l’Orchestre de la Francophonie, and he can be heard on Naxos and Analekta records as principal trumpet for recordings of Bach’s Magnificat, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Beethoven’s complete symphonies.
Growing up in Vancouver, Hodgson applied to university for music and engineering. Having come from a long line of engineers, he recalls the pressure to follow the family trait. But halfway through his final year of high school his mind was made up.
“I knew I had to do music. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” he said. “It wasn’t that I decided against engineering; I just loved music so much that there wasn’t anything else I’d be happy doing.”
Hodgson remembers vividly what brought him to Western.
“I had such a friendly experience on audition day. All these student volunteers showing you around, introducing you to the school and helping you relax, because it was a pretty stressful day,” he said. “An audition is a test, so you go to these schools and they are testing you. But you’re also trying out the school as a potential student and that was one of the things Western does, and still does, very well. That whole experience made up my mind for me.”
While at Western, his father would make regular calls quoting the average starting salaries of engineers. But the calls grew less frequent after Hodgson’s Western degree led to graduate studies at Yale University.
“Whatever disappointment they had, when I got into Yale, they calmed down, and then when I got a job everything was alright,” Hodgson said. “But honestly, my parents have always been very supportive throughout all my schooling.”
Hodgson spent three years at Yale, completing what he calls an odd, but beneficial program. In it, all coursework was completed in three years, before they push you out the door.
“They expect you to leave the school and build a career, and then you are invited back (after two to five years) for your final recital and oral exam,” he said. “It’s bad-tasting medicine, I suppose. They force you to have a career, which can be scary and difficult. But it is good since it makes the degree mean a lot more. Everyone who has completed that degree hasn’t just gone through school, but they’ve also established themselves as a professional, which is really valuable. Not all degrees are like that. They treat it like your dissertation is your body of work”
Upon leaving Yale in 2008, Hodgson began teaching at Newfoundland’s Memorial University while building his professional portfolio. At Memorial, he founded the Reveille Trumpet Collective, a group dedicated to exploring new paths for trumpet while connecting performers, composers and audiences in innovative ways.
“I came up with this project to keep in touch with close friends, collaborate with them. And it’s been very successful,” he said, with collaborators in Canada, the United States and Australia. “Usually, when you get a composer to write you a piece, it will be played once and sit in a drawer for 10 years. But in this sense, it’s very appealing to a composer to have their piece played many times. We are trying to take new pieces and, as performers, work with the composers and introduce their work to a wide audience.”
Hodgson returned to Connecticut last fall for his final recital and oral exam, completing his Doctor of Musical Arts at Yale. He began teaching at Western this past September.
“It’s a unique opportunity,” said Hodgson, who called it a “thrill” to be teaching alongside fellow trumpet professors Shawn Spicer and Peter Audet, both of whom taught him as an undergrad. “When you’re a student, you spend half your time saying, ‘Well, if I were in charge, I’d do this and this.’ Well, now, I actually have a chance to do some of those things and try to help build a stronger environment.”
Posted with permission; Western News.
Great story about Jenell Parsons changing career directions and opening the Pie Hole in Vancouver by Jenny Lee:
"Everybody used to call me the cupcake girl, but I want to be the pie girl,” said Parsons, 32, who has a degree in 3-D computer animation but was working as a plumbing supervisor when colleagues urged her to start a business."
The French-toast bacon pie caught my eye!