Part One of EightSix’s two-part Canucks Sports & Entertainment feature
Canucks Sports and Entertainment’s new Executive Chef, Robert Bartley, just made the big move from Toronto to Vancouver to take the reigns on CSE’s new culinary program. A huge hockey fan and former Executive Chef of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment who “bleeds blue” (but not the kind you might think!), Chef Bartley has been busy revamping the many food services offered at Rogers Arena in addition to recruiting hundreds of talented people for its culinary operations. Despite a hectic schedule, Chef Bartley was kind enough to take the time to give us some insight into how he got where he is today, what he looks for in new recruits, and how he’s adjusting to life on the West Coast.
Canucks Sports and Entertainment is no longer calling its food service operation “food & beverage;” it’s being referred to as “hospitality.” What is the significance of the change?
Chef Bartley: It’s the attitude that will have the biggest change. “Food and beverage” are products that get served; “hospitality” is the emotional connection that brings it all together. Think of how you welcome someone into your home with a warm, genuine, smiling welcome; we want to do the same thing but just with a much bigger home with lots of front doors.
You recently moved from Toronto to Vancouver. How are you and your family adjusting to life on the west coast?
Chef Bartley: I am loving it out here. The scenery and views are spectacular, the culinary bounty is endless, and the opportunity to work with local suppliers, fisherman, farmers, and merchants is truly humbling – a dream for a chef!
In taking over from Aramark, Canucks Sports and Entertainment has taken on the challenge of having to recruit close to 1000 people for your operations at Rogers Arena. why is CSE a great place to work?
Chef Bartley: Although it seems like a large amount of people and “big company,” Canucks Sports and Entertainment is rooted in family values: honesty, integrity, and respect. Ownership and management genuinely care for the employees and each other. It’s just one big happy family that is driven to be the best in the business.
Your career story is an inspiration to anyone starting out in the culinary arts. How did you get your start in the industry and how did you get to where you are today?
Chef Bartley: I started my career in London, Ontario in a small café called Café Bruges(a Belgium city). I then went to Stratford Chef School. I moved to Toronto to have an opportunity to work with my mentor, Susur Lee, at his restaurant Lotus. From there, I chose places of employment that would round out my experience and were considered to be the top of class in their respective categories.
It takes personal drive, passion, and commitment to excellence to chart a course for a great career. I have been blessed to work with some of the best in the business.
Why do you think you have been so successful in your career?
Chef Bartley: I think the reason would be that I surround myself with talent in every place I work; I am only as good as the people I work with. I also possess an inner drive to push myself to achieve levels that I may feel I am not capable of. Anything is possible – just believe. I believe in myself and don’t accept failure. Don’t get me wrong, I make a ton of mistakes. But, I learn from them.
What is the best thing about working in a kitchen and what is it you look for in new hires?
Chef Bartley: I love being surrounded by food. I eat, sleep, and breathe it. It is also a great life skill, learning to cook. You will use this skill regardless if you choose to make it a profession.
I look for attitude. I feel confident that I can train anyone the functional skills of cooking, but I can’t teach attitude, positivity, and commitment; the candidate must bring that to the table.
Here’s the most important question – the one everyone wants us to ask: are you a Canucks fan or a Maple Leafs fan?
Chef Bartley: I bleed blue, now just another shade of it! (laughs) Honestly, I am a fan of hockey in general. I grew up watching and cheering for the Leafs but I now am committed to the Canucks and so proud to have the opportunity to do so.
CSE owns the renowned Toptable Group. What influence will the award-winning cuisine served at Toptable’s exceptional restaurants have on what is offered at Rogers Arena?
Chef Bartley: I have an unique opportunity to join the culinary family that is Top Table. The best meals I have eaten in Vancouver have been at Top Table restaurants. The chefs are all awesome and very welcoming of me into the family. Having the resources of the talent of these chefs is unbelievable and I have relied on them already many times!
Given the emphasis on improved food and service at Rogers Arena, some customers are concerned about an increase in prices. Can you comment on these concerns?
Chef Bartley: Our focus is to increase the quality of product and the service level, and to do it within the existing price structure. If the raw product costs stay relatively stable, we should be able to achieve this.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Chef Bartley: Shop at markets, forage the city and outer areas for food ingredients, and cook at home. I love to fish and plant gardens as well.
What is one new dish or cooking technique you’d like to try?
Chef Bartley: I would like to learn how to stretch noodles by hand like the Chinese chefs do. Also, I would love to learn cheese making.
Finally, which Canadian NHL team will win the Stanley Cup first?
Chef Bartley: Vancouver, of course!