Western wasn't always on the menu for Blois
By Adela Talbot
August 22, 2013
When Stacey Blois first arrived at Western in 1997, the plan was to take a temporary, part-time job as a server on campus. She was just 17 and still in high school.
A decade and a half later, the 32-year-old is still here. She is the only female chef in Western’s residence community, having established a stellar reputation not only on campus, but at culinary conferences and competitions in Canada and the United States.
“I started and I was only going to work a couple of months. I wasn’t planning on coming back,” Blois explained, noting while she was supposed to work as a server, she was placed as a cook in Saugeen-Maitland Hall when she arrived. “But because of the money, I came back. (High) school ended and I didn’t know what I wanted to do; so I stayed.”
Though she has enjoyed each day of the past 15 years at Western, there were many turns in the road that led to Blois getting her chef’s hat.
During her first six years as a cook on campus, she was a cook at Saugeen, preparing on-the-spot meals for students, later moving on to being a dedicated breakfast cook and, then, lunch cook. Blois worked hard and was happy, but at some time during her first few years, an itch developed.
“I thought, maybe I want to go back to school and earn my (chef) papers; maybe this is something I can do as an apprentice,” Blois said, smiling.
A chef she worked with at the time was extremely encouraging, and her manager also backed her up, calling the apprentice board on her behalf and helping her go back to school part-time.
At 27, Blois enrolled in Fanshawe College’s two-year Culinary Management Apprentice program, allowing her to continue working part-time at Western while learning the skills to become a chef.
“It was a little difficult,” Blois said. “By then I had already had my daughter. I ended up going (to school) two days a week, for two years, and then I got my papers,” she continued.
Blois credits the support of her fiancé for helping her deal with the stress of school while working and raising her daughter, now 10.
“He’s the reason I was able to do it. He dealt with a lot of stress, a lot of toughness,” she said. “If I needed him to be somewhere, he would do it for me. If I needed him to help me study for my Red Seal (the governmental certification for trades, including chefs), he would sit with me, with flash cards I had made, for hours and hours, for two weeks straight, right before I wrote my test.”
Having completed her Red Seal exam more than three years ago, Blois applied for an open position on campus and has worked as a chef, overseeing a kitchen and team of cooks in the Perth Residence, for the last three years. While she isn’t the first female chef in the residence community, she is currently the only woman holding the post. Blois will be working at Essex Hall come September.
“I love everything about my job. I really do. I’ve been here so long and I grew up with a lot of the people that I work with,” she said.
“The last three summers, I worked with the football teams, the training camp, making meals on practice days. I’ve met so many different people,” she added, noting she has also had the opportunity to travel, showcasing her skills and representing Western as a chef.
“I got to travel to Massachusetts to a culinary conference competition, and last year, I got to go to Toronto and compete. (Western) was the only university in the Ocean Wise Chowder competition – it was all Toronto (and area) restaurants in the competition,” Blois noted.
Not only was Western the only university represented in the competition, she was the only chef from Western to compete.
“We didn’t win but we had a great showing. We surprised a lot of people. Nobody thought we could hold our own against restaurants in Toronto. I had so many people come and say they were totally shocked.”
As for the competition she attended in Massachusetts, Blois, still in her first year of culinary school at the time, walked away with a silver medal.
“The pastry chef from the White House was there. The experiences you get working here, I couldn’t even imagine,” she said.
Still, Blois added there are challenges to the job, whether it’s multitasking to prepare a variety of healthy foods, all at the same time, or balancing being a chef with being a mom.
“The challenges are different every day. Some days, it’s time management, some days, you have staff underneath you that either don’t get along or need guidance. I’m in charge of cooks and accountable for them getting their meals out, and what they look like,” she explained.
“But the hardest part for me is I’m young. A lot of the staff I have was here when I started as a kid. I grew up with them and now I’m their boss, and that can be tough. They’re mostly very accepting, but I’m young and I’m female and that can be tough. When I first started, this was a very male-dominated profession.”
Even though she’s young and a woman, Blois still says she doesn’t feel out of place. She was the first of the female cooking staff to get her papers but more have since followed in her footsteps. She hopes to soon see more women wearing the chef’s hat in residence.
“I’m quite content being at the university – you wont ever get form a restaurant what you get here, ever. I get out of here at the latest at 8 o’clock, and I’m there to put my daughter to bed. I’m there in the morning for her, and as a mom, that’s great. I am happy where I am.”
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