Cooking up an apprenticeship legacy

Cooking up an apprenticeship legacy

< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight | Contributors: Dany Rubbo | Published: November 7, 2023

When Mathias Probst moved to Canada from Brazil in 2014 he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the cook trade. Mathias is the Executive Chef at The Carleton, a certified Red Seal cook who is passionate about training apprentices and helping enhance the cook trade in Nova Scotia.

His journey began in the South Shore, where he started working as a cook in a seasonal restaurant in Lunenburg. Mathias didn’t know much about Nova Scotia before settling in the province. He says it was originally meant to be an entry point into the country and the trade in Canada, but that he saw great potential for developing a promising career as a cook. The tourism and hospitality industry was up-and-coming and while there were likely issues with the industry’s growth outpacing the labour market, for a talented individual with his skillset, the future seemed bright.

“Early on we identified that there was this huge potential and a gap in the market. And at the time, this was one of the reasons why we decided to stay,” says Mathias.

He became determined to support the industry’s growth in the province, yet his own journey as a cook was not without its challenges.

Stamp of Approval

Mathias had a Culinary Management Diploma and significant work experience as a cook in his home country of Brazil, but he realized these qualifications did not receive the same recognition in Nova Scotia.

“Now it's different, but for a young cook to come into Nova Scotia 10 years ago and say ‘I have a Culinary Management Diploma of X University’, doesn't really matter which one, no one knows what that means.”

He did some research, came across the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency (NSAA), and decided to obtain a certificate of qualification with a Red Seal Endorsement (RSE) as a cook.

“I needed something that proved I knew what I was doing. I didn't want to go through post-secondary education again and essentially do the same diploma I already had just for the sake of proving, on paper, that I know how or know what I'm doing. It was like a stamp of approval,” says Mathias.

The RSE is a nationally recognized seal of endorsement, which would also enable Mathias to work anywhere in Canada without further training or examination.

Fostering Growth

In 2017, thanks to his extensive previous work experience, Mathias challenged the exam as a Trade Qualifier and became a certified cook with a RSE. With this certification, Mathias became a journeyperson and was qualified to start training apprentices in the trade. While training others may not have been the main catalyst behind his pursuit of the Red Seal, he knew it was something he wanted to get into eventually. Nowadays, Mathias is training three apprentices at The Carleton and is an enthusiastic advocate of the apprenticeship system.

“Now with all the years in the trade, it's not about showing that I know what I'm doing anymore. I want to help these up-and-coming cooks to be able to prove themselves so that in a few years they can do the same as I'm doing now,” he says. “I'm just passing on that knowledge and I feel that is really important. The more I can give to my apprentices, the more well-rounded they will be.”

Mathias says The Carleton has a culture of self-development that really benefits apprentices, something he attributes directly to the leadership of the establishment’s owner and president, Karen Spaulding.

“She has this very transparent mentality, and it just trickles down. If [the apprentices] want to be exposed to costing, menu planning, labour cost, forecasting…all of these things, I'm happy to share it with them,” he says. “I’m always telling them you're only going to get out of apprenticeship what you put in. So, the more curious you are – the more you want to do, the more you want to see – the faster you're going to grow.”

His devotion to teaching and personal growth also saw Mathias get involved with Serve It Up!, a high school culinary career exploration program offered by the Nova Scotia Tourism Human Resource Council in partnership with the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD) and funded by the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency.

“The Nova Scotia Tourism Human Resource Council is grateful for the commitment and support of our Serve it Up! employers across the province,” says Darlene Grant Fiander, Executive Director at the Nova Scotia Tourism Human Resource Council (NSTHRC). “The efforts of Red Seal mentors, like Chef Mathias Probst, to champion the next generation of talent are highly commendable.”

Serve It Up! provides an educational opportunity for youth to explore careers in the culinary trades through a 200-hour summer placement with hands-on work experience.

“The Serve it Up! initiative is part of our broader strategy to address the labour shortage, develop youth apprentices within the culinary trade, and increase the number of Red Seal Cooks in Nova Scotia,” says Grant Fiander. “The success of this unique program relies on industry and government, working in partnership, to provide exploratory career opportunities.”

Through Serve It Up! Mathias has overseen three youths since 2021 and stresses the initiative has been highly successful at The Carleton. Overall, since the program’s inception, a total of 87 students have benefited from internships across all employers enrolled in the initiative.

Leveling Up

The culture of self-improvement at his workplace is something Mathias has also personally capitalized on. In 2021, he pursued the Atlantic Trades Business Seal (ATBS), a continuing education program for journeypersons to advance their business and leadership skills. For Mathias, it was an opportunity to brush up on his accounting and human resources skills whilst being taught by other tradespeople, which he felt was more relatable than what he would otherwise get from a standard business course.

The ATBS is offered remotely, and all classes were recorded, which Mathias identifies as a particularly helpful resource.

“It being online was really good for the cook trade because a lot of the other trades work in commercial hours. But the cook trade is opposite hours,” he says. “So, if there were any classes that I missed, I didn't feel like I lost anything (from the curriculum).”

Opening his own establishment may not be in Mathias’ plans, but continuing to train apprentices seems inevitable given his passion for mentoring. “I've always been keen on sharing knowledge, so I would say that's where I would see myself, helping apprentices develop and being a part of the development of the cook trade as a whole,” he says. “Because even though we have more trained professionals, the restaurant growth is still outpacing the labour force, so this gap is only being accentuated. And working in trying to make that gap smaller is something that really interests me.”

Employers such as The Carleton and champions like chef Mathias Probst, supported by the NSAA, NSTHRC, and EECD, are not only proactively addressing the industry’s labour market challenges, but also highlighting the remarkable employment and training opportunities within Nova Scotia’s thriving culinary sector.

Since the writing of this article, Mathias was nominated by his peers and selected by the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Board to receive the Apprenticeship Award of Excellence for his industry engagement and leadership in advancing apprenticeship training. Mathias received the award during the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency Annual Industry Meeting in November 2023.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight

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