Hansen is a food industry native. He got his start in a kitchen at 15, and has been hooked on cooking ever since. “I love it, it’s all I’ve ever known,” said Hansen. “It fills me with a sense of reward, when I get to see that I made someone happy.”
It’s impressive that Hansen has retained his positive attitude about being a chef. The food industry is notorious for difficult coworkers, long hours, and minimal pay. But this hasn’t stopped Hansen from pursuing what he loves.
The food industry is an enigmatic one. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the job outlook for Chefs and Head Cooks to be 9%, which they indicated was “faster than average”. The number of jobs listed, as of 2014, was 127,500. The median income for a chef is $41,500 per year.
Furthermore, the restaurant industry as a whole “will remain the nation’s second-largest private sector employer with a workforce of 14.4 million” in 2016, according to the National Restaurant Association. Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach $783 billion in 2016.
Hansen has filled nearly every position in a kitchen since he was 15, starting as a dishwasher and working his way up to being a prep cook, line cook, sous chef, pastry chef, chef de cuisine, executive chef, and a kitchen manager.
He currently works as an executive chef for College Chefs at the Gamma Phi Beta house at the University of Denver. College Chefs only hires “professionally trained chefs to prepare, plan and serve meals.” The company prides itself on providing “creative food solutions for sororities and fraternities.”
Hansen has also worked for restaurants such as Wolfgang Puck, Morton’s of Chicago, Izakaya Den, Sushi Tora, Hapa, Sonoda’s, Tahona, and Arby’s. His speciality and favorite cuisine is Asian food. He enjoys Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese especially.
“I was working for a privately-owned company in Chicago that had five restaurants. One Saturday, I got to work a birthday party for the guy who owned the Cubs, Wrigley Field, and the Chicago Tribune…it was the most insane thing I ever got to be a part of, cooking with the ten best Chicago restaurants for the day,” recalled Hansen. “I got to watch Paul Simon’s sound check…that night I made great food, had great fun, and met great people.”
Hansen acknowledges that there are difficulties involved with being a chef in the food industry. “The hardest aspect of my job is not getting complacent. It’s difficult sometimes to keep myself energized…not just show up and do the same routine,” said Hansen. “I have to keep the creativity and passion, which is difficult sometimes.”
Hansen, though, gives the impression that the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks of being a chef. “Touching tables was one of my favorite parts of working in a restaurant. That was when we were able to go out onto the floor and interact with the customers, and get a sense of how they enjoyed the meal,” Hansen reminisced.
Today, at his job for College Chefs, Hansen works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. He serves lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday. On Friday he serves brunch and “finger foods” in the afternoon. Hansen also works part-time for a catering company on the weekends.
Hansen is clearly beloved at Gamma Phi Beta, where he clearly puts in an exceptional amount of effort into meal planning and preparing. Every week, he must draw up a menu for the next week that takes into consideration dietary restrictions, and budgeting. Hansen puts a lot of thought into the ingredients he uses in meals, and what he is cooking. He is amenable to suggestions, and almost always delivers on them.
Hansen has experienced the highs and lows of the profession. “I had my dream job at Izakaya Den, where I was poised to become executive chef within two years. The restaurant had just opened and was in shambles, so I was hired to come in and fix everything. The two other chefs that worked in the kitchen, however, were never told by upper management that I was supposed to be there,” Hansen said.
“The two chefs did everything they could to get rid of me…I couldn’t handle the lack of leadership and the two guys trying to push me out. It was the worst thing I’ve ever dealt with because it was my dream job and I unfairly got pushed out.”
Hansen, however, has not let this experience deter him. He values creativity and his independence in the kitchen. Above all, he loves cooking.
The food and restaurant industries are growing, and the demand for creative and innovative chefs has risen exponentially. Hansen offers valuable insight into what being a chef entails.
Hansen offered some sage advice to those interested in breaking into the food and restaurant industries. “Be open to learning everything you possibly can. Work with different cuisines, work really, really hard, and don’t ever give up”.