Today’s Notable Young Professional is Zach Albertsen, Executive Chef at Toronto hotspot The Forth. From market shopping to researching, labour and food costing, ordering, event planning, crisis management and being the best he can at every station in the restaurant, there isn’t a single thing he hasn’t mastered in the industry…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell
I’m the Executive Chef at The Forth, a contemporary Canadian restaurant at Pape and Danforth that offers a constantly evolving menu that’s locally sourced and seasonally focused.
The job requires a lot of hats: 4:30 am market shopping, researching, labour and food costing, ordering, event planning, crisis management, and of course making sure I’m the best I can be at every station in the restaurant – from sauces to salads to meats to expediting. If the dishwasher breaks down in the middle of service, I’ll be the repairman too. It adds up to very long days, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I recently moved to Toronto and spent time at a few different restaurants including Canoe and Momofuku before landing at The Forth as Sous Chef. I love the ownership and the people I work with here. As for the career route, there’s nothing like getting to use all five senses every day.
What’s the best part of what you do an a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
I really love feeding people. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world when you bust your ass to get through a really tough and busy service and compliments from guests come back to the kitchen.
The most challenging part for me is the criticism that comes with working in this industry. When someone doesn’t get what you’re doing it can be hard to swallow because I just want to make everyone happy, so I do my very best to make sure they leave happy regardless. A more recent challenge I’ve encountered is that the more I work my way up, the more my job involves sitting behind a desk and being out of the kitchen.
What’s the one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
My work/life balance is way off. In the last few months I’ve unfortunately missed three of my friends’ weddings, but a free weekend is hard to come by in this industry.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I think every chef dreams of opening up his or her own restaurant. I eventually want to open up a place with my friend Jarrod Hitt – we’ve done some pop-up dinners together in the past and work really great as a team. He has the same level of passion I have for the industry, but he applies it to the front-of-house. Whatever it is that I’m doing in five years, I just really want to be cooking.
What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Probably my age. It can be hard to be taken seriously when you’re young and working to make a name for yourself. But I’ve been really fortunate to have owners I’ve worked for see my potential and instill a lot of trust in me, and I haven’t let any of them down so far. I’ve always felt that I’ve left a place in a better position than it was when I came in.
What does success look to you? Does money=happiness?
Money isn’t the key to happiness, but it can eliminate some worry. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about and business isn’t doing well, the lack of success can make it hard to keep finding happiness in what you do. I think the key to success is knowledge. The more experience you acquire and the more you know about your profession, the more valued you’ll become.
Most Memorable Milestone in your Career?
Earning my first sous chef position at The Coopers Tavern in Madison, Wisconsin. It was the first time I was allowed to do my own thing in a full, busy kitchen, and it confirmed that I picked the right career.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals.
Bust your ass. Nothing beats hard work. Also, spend time researching where it is you want to work, and get in there. School is great, but so is experience in your field, so it’s important to jump right in and learn from anyone who will teach you. Lastly, don’t discount someone you’re working with because of their age or because they’re working under you. There’s something to be learned from everyone. I learn something new from my staff every day.
Whats your favourite place to wine and dine in your city and why?
Guu Izakaya – it’s my favourite place to take friends and family when they visit. But after a busy night at work, a good old burger from Square Boys hits the spot.
When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “me” time?
Buying new cookbooks; I try to pick up a new one with every pay cheque. On nights off I’ll often try to see a music show… between eating and drinking. Toronto’s a great city for that.
Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
Southeast Asia has captured my heart, and I spend a lot of time in Copenhagen and London. But at the end of the day, going home is sometimes the best travel.
If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
SpottieOttieDopaliscious by Outkast. If I have a good day, that’s the song I want to hear. If I have a bad day, that’s the song that can turn it around. If I were a baseball player, that would be the song playing every time I walk up to the plate.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Realistically I would probably be working in an office using my political science degree. But it would be sweet as hell to be a racecar driver or a rock star.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one and why is that important to you?
We try to avoid food waste at The Forth as much as possible, so we recently partnered with Second Harvest, a great food rescue organization that seeks to bridge the gap between hunger and food waste. They collect quality food that would otherwise be thrown out and distribute it to shelters throughout the city.
What to you is Notable?
When a chef or artist or musician is trying to say something different, instead of following a trend. When you eat their food, listen to their music or look at their artwork and know right away that it’s their work – that it’s original and didn’t come from anyone else – that’s notable to me.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
You’re asking me to choose between bad, worse and shitty.