Leanne Pepper has been working in the hospitality industry ever since she was old enough to get a job. From scooping ice cream to housekeeping to waitressing, Pepper did it all.
While some teenagers took service jobs out of necessity, she took them out of interest.
"People loved to be taken care of and I had a passion for that," she recalls.
Pepper, who grew up in London, Ontario, worked for three years at Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta where she got her first taste of working in the kitchen. She was hooked and wanted to learn more but the chefs were too busy to teach her their tricks of the trade.
"I had been working in the industry for all my life so I really felt I wanted to bring it all together. The only way to get training was to go back to school," she says.
Pepper chose the George Brown Chef School based on its reputation as being one of the best culinary schools. "It was an amazing experience. I loved every moment of it," says Pepper. "The program gave you a good foundation and you could go out and put your own touches on it."
After completing her apprenticeship at the King Edward Hotel, she got a job with McMaster University’s faculty club where she worked for 10 years. Then the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto had an opening, which Pepper applied for. She has been the general manager there for the past 12 years. The club offers its members (faculty, staff, alumni and donors) a place to socialize with colleagues from other disciplines as well as a location to host special events like receptions, graduations, weddings and business meetings.
As the general manager, Pepper’s responsibilities are wide and varied. In addition to overseeing the kitchen and dining staff, she is also involved in marketing, special events planning, staff training, relationship building within the university and researching new trends.
"If we’re not taking care of our members, someone else will so we have to keep it interesting," she explains.
Pepper also teaches etiquette workshops at the Faculty Club for students whose future careers will include business dinners with high-powered, sophisticated clients.
"I encourage more people to get into this industry. There are so many opportunities and it’s such an exciting industry," says Pepper, who feels that interest in hospitality has waned over the years.
For those who are set on pursuing a culinary career, the Chef School comes highly recommended by Pepper. "George Brown is the best especially under the leadership of John Higgins (the Chef School’s director)," she says. "… It’s so tempting to go back and do it all over again."