Feeding Spirits, Not Just Stomachs

The thing about chefs is that they can work almost anywhere. Because of this, cooking is an ideal job for the restless spirits among us.

In a crowd known for its wanderlust, Gordon Parton is somewhat of an anomaly.

Parton is the head chef at Gadzoosdaa Student Residence, where students from small towns live while they go to high school in Whitehorse. He has held this job since 1991, shortly after the residence opened.

Parton explains, “I was working at the [Yukon] college at the time and a co-worker saw an ad for a permanent job and I thought I might as well apply.”

Not only did he get the job, but he also became one of those rare people to find a niche in the world.

As Parton talks, he wanders back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room. And as he takes a fresh batch of buns out of the oven or pours a cup of Joe from the coffee maker, one cannot help but get the impression that his movements are second nature.

He knows his job; it’s in his bones.

Where does this sense of belonging come from? Parton has an easy answer: “It’s the kids.”

During the interview, a few of the students who live there file in and out of the kitchen area. They address Parton casually, without reservation, and he responds in kind.

“I really like working with the teenagers. They are good to get along with,” he says. Many parents would kill to have this type of relationship with their children.

However, when the students at Gadzoosdaa are confronted with inevitable teenage problems, Parton’s persona changes from easy-going friend to role model.

Parton lets his behaviour do a lot of the talking.

“I show them how to act by good example,” he says.

However, when providing a good example is not enough, Parton is happy to talk to the students.

“Once I gain the confidence of the kids, they confide in me,” he says.

Parton feels right at home in his role as a confidante, saying, “I kind of come from the same background as some of the kids, so I can relate [to them].”

He understands that the students’ backgrounds are an important part of their identity. As such, he has shaped the menu of Gadzoosdaa in accordance with this principle.

“We have some First Nations students, so I cook a lot of wild meat,” Parton says. This is one of the small ways in which Parton seeks to create “a pleasant situation” for the students.

Parton’s approach works well.

“I get students coming back to visit me,” he says. When pressed further for an example of his relationship with former students, it doesn’t take him long to come up with a good one. Parton relays this story: “A few weeks ago, in Super A, I saw a former student.

“He said, ‘It’s good to see you. I miss your cooking.’ Then I got a big hug out of him.”

It’s no wonder that Gordon Parton looks so content.

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