There’s no way to candy coat it or caramelize it. The food business can be demanding to satisfy customers and requires a significant work ethic beyond the expectations of most jobs.
Bejamin Terlien is still a young person in the industry but has worked his way up through, well, hard work and a willingness to continually learn while serving up creations that will both tantalize customers and in some cases take them out of their comfort zones to experience something new but memorable in cuisine.
The executive chef at the Chemainus Theatre has become known for making his dishes special with bursts of flavour from the right combination of ingredients and good old-fashioned TLC that goes into his cooking.
“It’s really important to have a cohesive team that works together,” said Terlien. He’s one of five people who work in the kitchen at the theatre and considers long-time employee Val Butler the backbone of the kitchen.
“I’ve really enjoyed the chance to do these three-course menus,” he added. “It’s the kind of food I like preparing more.”
Surveys are done regularly, Terlien noted, and it’s about 50-50 between people who prefer a buffet or the current three-course menu choices. Of course, COVID has factored into many decisions now about masking in the theatre and the comfort level of diners. As a result, there’s kind of a hybrid model in the dining room at the moment.
“We do have an attendant helping,” he said of the appetizer and dessert table selections. “At this point, I don’t think it would be a good idea to bring it back to a self-serve station. I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Needless to say, it’s going to be a busy time ahead for Terlien and the kitchen staff with regular shows on again at the theatre throughout the remainder of the year. They got their trial run during the production of The 39 Steps that ran April 22-May 22.
Terlien, now 26, was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but wound up in Sparwood, B.C. at a young age when his father, Dr. Paul Terlien, got a job there. The family moved again a few years later and relocated to Maple Bay when Paul joined the Ingram Clinic in Duncan where he remained until his recent retirement.
Benjamin started his course in the food industry bussing tables at the Rock Cod Cafe in Cowichan Bay as a high school student. After graduating from Cowichan Secondary School in 2013, Terlien entered the 10-month Vancouver Island University Culinary Program at Providence Farm.
He thrived in that program under the direction of instructor Allan Aikman. “My instructor and I got along really well, he had a great sense of humour,” said Terlien.
He received certificates of qualification and apprenticeship for each of the first and second levels of the program under an Industry Training Authority ticket and then went to put his credentials to good use in seeking employment.
Ironically, Terlien returned to the Rock Cod Cafe and became the sous chef to executive chef Tyrone Sylvester there for a few years.
Looking for a change, he sent his resume to a few places and received some coinciding interest just as Nick Caulford, executive chef at the Chemainus Theatre at the time, offered him the first cook position.
“Nick and I became really close working together,” Terlien indicated.
They started the fine dining concept on certain nights in October of 2017.
“We wanted to do the plating rather than putting out big trays of stuff,” explained Terlien. “Every Friday we started doing plated main courses. We had the opportunity to do some fancier fine dining dishes. The menus we did together was a great experience.
“There’s a certain type of person who enjoys that sort of thing. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, obviously. It’s fun for us as chefs, too.”
The three-course plated dinners became the norm and fit the bill for the Playbill Presents Series during the limited theatre start-up from COVID.
Terlien took over from Caulford as the executive chef/hospitality manager near the end of August last year. He strives to do his best every night.
“You’re being judged every single night,” he conceded. “If something goes wrong, you always need to be there to remedy it.”
As much as chefs hear from customers more often when there’s a problem, Terlien always appreciates the positive feedback.
“There’s a lot that goes into menu planning, I don’t think people realize that,” he confided.
Before the Classic Country Roads show gets going June 17, Terlien’s thoughts turned during the break to his Ouma, Vivienne Clark. He just found out May 27 she had died in South Africa.