You might think a guy like Justin Inkpen, the strapping 29-year-old night supervisor at Stoke’s Bay Grill and Bar, was inspired to cook by someone with a lot of testosterone, like TV’s Gordon Ramsay.
But Inkpen credits his grandma.
“My grandma was like a second mom to me and she was always in the kitchen, baking and cooking,” he says.
“I hung out with her a lot. She didn’t do anything else, just cooked for my family.”
Inkpen’s grandma was originally from Newfoundland and frequently prepared traditional meals like corned beef, salt cod and meat cakes.
“She made big meals with very little money,” he recalls. “It wasn’t fancy, but it was hardy. And she never followed a recipe. It was all in her head.
“She just knew what to do. It was from the eye and the way the dough felt.”
From her, Inkpen learned how to handle himself in a kitchen, and that’s where he found his first jobs while a high school student at Northern Collegiate.
He cooked at a variety of local restaurants before landing a position at Stokes when he was 20.
He was working in Stokes’ kitchen full-time but felt compelled to enroll in Lambton College’s apprenticeship program. For two years, he worked in the restaurant five days a week and spent the other two days in college classes.
“When I went to school, it was a big eye-opener,” said Inkpen. “I thought I knew everything already and, honestly, I had to be rebooted. I had to learn a lot of things all over again.”
The pace earning his apprenticeship was hectic, including the stress of working at a restaurant that can turn out as many as 1,500 meals on a busy day.
But he says he finished school with a new confidence in the kitchen and a better understanding of where he wanted his career to take him.
“We don’t get to leave the kitchen at Stokes, but I do love it when the girls come back and tell me a table really liked their dinner.
“I love the compliments,” he laughed.
He aspires to becoming a Red Seal chef one day and dreams of heading to the American South for a barbecue competition or two.
“I like big proteins,” he said. “There’s nothing better than a nice big piece of charbroiled meat on a plate.
“That’s one of the reasons I like it here.”
– Cathy Dobson