Once the only immigrant in the kitchen, now Bee Choo Char is the head chef at the Prince George
By Kim Hart Macneill
When Bee Choo Char first started at the Prince George Hotel 17 years ago as a banquet prep cook she was the only immigrant on the team. Now things are different.
“There are so many people from all over the world,” says Char, who is from Malaysia and is now the head chef at the Prince George. “I know our hotels, from housekeeping to the kitchen, we have a lot of immigrants.” Her coworkers in the kitchen include people from Korea, Japan, and Tibet.
Part of the reason the Prince George’s staff is so diverse is that the company (which also owns the downtown Cambridge Suites Hotel) works with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia to offer opportunities to immigrants.
Char first came to Canada 20 years ago. She settled in British Columbia, but her husband’s job transferred to Halifax soon after. “It’s a big difference weather wise,” she says. “It’s so cold here, it’s freezing in Halifax. But other than that, I find Halifax more laid back.”
When she first arrived, she took a year of classes at Nova Scotia Community College, but left to take a job at the Prince George. She moved through the cooking ranks slowly. Now she heads a team of 17 cooks, four stewards, and recently hired a new chef for Gio Restaurant.
She says the most rewarding part of her job is the creativity she can express through food. “When it comes to special events you have a lot of freedom to design the menu,” she says. “That’s really exciting. I can experiment with different food like curries, and different methods like sous vide.”
Char tries to give her staff that same opportunity by encouraging them to try new dishes that might someday make it on to the menu at a banquet or even Gio’s seasonal menu.
She encourages other new arrivals to the city to follow her path.
“When you’re new in Canada it’s hard to find a job,” she says. “I was just telling one of the cooks from Jamaica, when you come to Halifax you have to step into whatever you can find before you look for your career. Do whatever job you can get, get yourself in the door first, then slowly go to find your career.”