Reaching higher Hy’s

By Jackson MacGillivray and Harris Gale 

It’s 9 a.m. and new executive chef, Jackie Hildebrand, flicks on the lights in the basement prep area of Hy’s Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar. She has just received her first food shipment of the day and has two more to go. In the next five hours, she needs to sign the invoices for the next shipments, organize the schedule for the upcoming weeks, and prep for food service this evening which includes a reservation of over 50 guests.

This is how Hildebrand’s days start now. She was recently promoted to executive chef of the restaurant; making her the first female to hold that position in the company’s history. At first, she didn’t realize the significance of her promotion in the industry.

“I didn’t even think about it when we were talking about it happening. It was just a natural progression for me. But then people started talking about it as ‘first female’– I’m very honoured,” she says.

Hy’s sits at the intersection of Portage and Main, where it has built a reputation on consistent, expertly cooked steaks for over 60 years. Hy’s has established itself as a destination for fine dining in the city, holding a 4.3-star review on Google Reviews.

Hildebrand developed her love for cooking when she was seven years old, constantly cooking for the family. She took cooking classes at night until she was 18 and eligible to apply to the Culinary Arts program at Red River College.

Having never worked in a restaurant before, Hildebrand had to learn everything for the first time. Even learning to chop an onion correctly was skill she didn’t know she lacked.

“I probably learned the most all at once at the beginning just doing basic food prep,” says Hildebrand. “I just kind of went blind into it. I said, ‘This is what I’m doing…God, I hope I’m good at it.’”

 After finishing her program at RRC, Hildebrand worked through co-op programs for five months before accepting a position at Hy’s, and she has been there ever since.

“Leaving Red River College, I feel they prepared me very well for this industry. From knife skills and basic food prep right through graduation, the instructors take time with students and genuinely care. The co-op programs provide great experience for after graduation.”

After working at Hy’s for four years, Hildebrand was promoted to sous chef in August of 2008, and held that position until Jan. 29, 2018 when she officially became executive chef. She acknowledges that a big part of her success is her team.

“We’re like a little family. It was like that when I started and it just sustains. It’s almost like you’re going into war on a Saturday night; it’s a battle,” she says.

In an industry largely dominated by male energy, Hildebrand says it’s important that women distinguish themselves and have a strong voice.

“Take every learning opportunity. The best thing about this business is that you can constantly learn. There are always new techniques evolving. Be flexible, stay strong as a female, and hold your ground. Every time I say I work at Hy’s people assume I’m a server.”

And while many in the industry may complain about the pitfalls of the business, Hildebrand says she loves it.

“The hours, the heat, the sound of the bill printer; everything.”

Hildebrand says for now, she is happy where she is.