Skills Yukon Interview Bridgeen Barber

Bridgeen Barber competing at the 2022 Territorial Skills Competition. Photo: Erik Pinkerton

Full name: Bridgeen Barber

Skills Yukon Affiliation: 2022 Territorial and National Skills Competition Competitor for Team Yukon

Age: 31

Trade & Certifications: Red Seal Cook
Current workplace: Whitehorse Emergency Shelter

What do you find the most challenging in your trade?

Well, I am very lucky to have had great opportunities in my trade but one unfortunate downside to cooking is that it doesn’t always pay the best and it’s hard on your body. It is a labour of love kind of job.

Was there someone who got you excited about this path?

It’s hard to answer this! Lots of people inspired me to cook growing up – namely my mom, my Omi and my Aunt Kathleen. Watching them cook and eventually being invited to help was always the highlight of family get-togethers. 

Did competing in the Territorial & National Skills Competition in 2022 offer any benefit to your career?

Yes it absolutely was. I got to utilize the skills I learned in culinary school that I don’t always get to use on the job. It was really exciting. Also the competition aspect of it was pretty neat – I felt like I was on a cooking show! It was an empowering and humbling experience. Also I got to take home a set of pots & pans from Meyer after the competition was over, which I was stoked about. I only had old hand me down pots in my home kitchen before.

If you could restart your apprenticeship and career in the trade, is there anything you would do differently? 

I think I might have started it sooner and done the apprenticeship the whole way through. I completed 1 year of culinary school at Yukon University in 2016 and had been working in the industry on and off previous to that so I knew I liked cooking. I continued to work in the industry after that but didn’t finish my seal until 2022. I didn’t really know what I wanted along the way and I liked working different cooking jobs to gain experience. Looking back I would have liked to get the apprenticeship out of the way first and then travel and explore the trade after.

What were the first steps you took in the trade? 

I started working at a fast food salad bar in Toronto when I was 17. I learned I liked working with my hands and that it was fun creating new food combinations with the ingredients on hand. That kinda sparked the idea of working as a cook as a career choice but I didn’t start culinary school until several years later. I worked as a youth worker for the Boys & Girls Club of Whitehorse for some of that time and the food programs there were a way I gained a lot of experience and honed my skills. It was also where I learned how much I love cooking for people. Food always brings people together.

How did you decide on the trade you’re in?

When I realized my work experience outside the industry was still very food involved – like at the BGC – I figured I should probably give it a go! I was always drawn to cooking.

Were you eligible for any grants or incentives for doing an apprenticeship in the Yukon?

Yes. The Yukon apprenticeship program is amazing. Since there isn’t anywhere in the Yukon to complete your 2nd and 3rd year apprenticeship training periods for becoming a Red Seal Cook they offer to send you to do them at either NAIT or SAIT in Alberta. I was able to complete my 3rd year training period at SAIT with the help of the Yukon Government. All I had to cover was my accommodation expenses while I was there but there was some funding for living expenses provided too.

How has your trade has made your life better?

I always say it’s a worthwhile trade to get into because everybody needs to eat! I love sharing my skills with my friends and family – and they love it too!

Was there anything that you found intimidating about your job before you started? If so, how did you overcome that?

I guess it’s always intimidating entering a new kitchen. Every kitchen has a different rhythm because of the people working there and the routines and demands of the business or organization. I think being open to learning and asking questions have helped a lot with that transition. 

Is there something about your trade you think not many people know?

Kitchen people are pretty unique. I guess all trades might say that about their own, but it really is true about cooks. I have a kinship with anyone who works in the service industry, usually, because of our shared experiences. I know most line cooks have eaten their meal over a garbage can once or twice. Most servers will groan at the idea of “marrying the ketchups.” Culinary industry people are some of the hardest working individuals I know.

How long did it take you to reach your current certification?

I started in 2015, and completed my Red Seal in 2022. A culinary apprenticeship should only take about 3 years normally, but I didn’t get there in the most linear fashion.

Do you have any plans to continue further education?

If we’re talking about throughout my whole lifetime I would love to continue to study a variety of things. I am currently doing some upgrading at Yukon University to potentially enter into a degree in nutrition, but I am also very interested in becoming a Red Seal Baker one day!

Where do you see your career in 5, 10, 15 years?

This is a big question! I have a lot of dreams over the next several years. Here’s a few: expanding the food programs at my current workplace, getting more baking experience, opening a small food business, getting a degree in nutrition or something in the health or social work field… I’m still figuring it all out.

What piece of advice would you offer someone who’s looking to be a chef? 

Make sure you love cooking and not just as a hobby. It’s a tough job at times, and it can be physically and mentally challenging. Make sure to take care of your wellness and to put yourself first, despite the demands of the job. A good employer will support their employees to do that.

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