Chef Brent Semple has a wealth of experience to be cooking lunches from his pink palace kitchen on Third Ave. in the downtown core. He loves cooking and providing good food that people can expect to enjoy.
He said there is nothing worse than going for lunch, not enjoying it and going back to the office hungry for the rest of the afternoon.
Starting as a dishwasher when he was just 16 and stepping up the kitchen ladder, he worked nighttime through the various stations. As an accounting and computer programming student, this paid his way through college, which he admits is far different from preparing food.
The hours were a challenge, and finding balance was difficult with studying during the day and working late into the night. He chose to continue working and focus his enjoyment on providing others with the enjoyment of good food at the Oak Bay Marina Restaurant in Victoria.
“It was getting hard going to college at 8 a.m. in the morning to 3 p.m. in the afternoon, and then three o’clock to 12 o’clock at night,” he said.
“The executive chef at the restaurant I was in retired and the owner asked me if I wanted to carry on,” He said, adding that he was 21 at the time. The restaurant paid for his three-year apprenticeship through the culinary arts program at BCIT. The program consisted of mainly hands-on kitchen work and short blocks of education in the classroom.
Originally hailing from Vancouver Island, Semple made Prince Rupert his home for a year and a half in the early 2000s and worked as a cook at the Crest Hotel. The lure of managing his own kitchen attracted him away to Banff, where working for a hospitality corporation had two kitchens under his management.
In 2009 he returned to Prince Rupert with his wife, and over a coffee with the head chef, was offered his job back at the Crest, where he worked until opening up his own Kaien Island cafe in 2019.
He enjoys making soup and sandwiches for the residents of Rupert and laughs that he works bankers hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., which suits him much more than the traditional restaurant hours. The hours range for different jobs in the kitchen, he said. Bakers get up in the very early 3 a.m. range of the night.
“Then you have breakfast cooks, and they’re a different breed. They like waking up at five in the morning,” he said. “Most cooks don’t like waking up early in the morning.
The daytime hours of running his own cafe give him some normality to life which he can now spend with his family and the quality of life is better, he said.
“You have to love the job, it’s not like you are going to get rich doing it. Often it is long hours in a hot kitchen,” he said.
Even when he worked from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m, it still played havoc with his body schedule because by the time he got home, made his own dinner, relaxed, and finally fell into bed, he wasn’t awake until much later in the morning, only to be back in the kitchen again by noon.
“A kitchen is a very stressful place if you work in a busy kitchen. You are on your feet going eight hours straight,” Brent said which can put some people off from working in the industry.
Brent’s cafe is a family-run enterprise with his two daughters working in the restaurant, and he does the cooking. His wife helped out when COVID-19 hit and upended the chairs on the tables to customers eating in. She would take the phone orders when eateries became the victims of the pandemic provincial circuitbreaker forbidding dining in.
Semple’s prepared food is tried and true, and he likes to keep it that way. While he doesn’t have a large kitchen with walk-in fridges, he keeps it local and purchases his produce daily so it is at its best for his customers. He said he tried ordering larger amounts from out of town, but the produce would arrive frozen with the transportation process and had to be thrown away because it was not the quality he would serve.
His cafe is popular, and customers like his weekly specials.
“I do a lot of googling. That’s how most chefs do it now. You can type in anything and like 10,000 recipes will come up.”
“I usually try to stick to the basics. A lot of people are leery if you go off the wall because they don’t want to order something they don’t know or really don’t know what it is or what it tastes like. Then they aren’t happy with their lunch.”
He said he had tried different things in the cafe, like offering a creme brulee dessert or items like muffins. He tried using the steam table that is in his dining area when he first opened up, but it became too hot in the cafe and just created condensation everywhere.
He has thought of extending his hour to dinner time but decided against it.
“[Dinner customers] want to go out for steak and pasta or something,” he said. “There would be too much competition around with other places.”
When asked about the future and where he’d like to go from where he currently is, he said if a larger space came up, he would consider moving.
“If another bigger place opens up, I could always move over, that way I can expand into dinner time, but here are not too many restaurants in town that come up for rent.”
For right now, the chef is happy serving soup and sandwiches and keeping his weekday banker hours.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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