"Qualified cooks are so few and far between that my poor business partner and chef Grant [Gard] is working 90 hours a week because he can't find the right fit," said Sterling Grice, co-owner of Foo, Foo Ramen and Part and Parcel in Victoria.
The summer usually brings with it a rush of young applicants, but not this year, he said. Already he's spent more than four months looking for new kitchen staff, and other restaurateurs are no better off, he added.
"If you look at Craigslist, there's nothing but chef and line cook positions available at way too many restaurants."
The problem is both the high demand for quality chefs and the short supply of ready candidates, said Grice, who said the city has North America's second-highest number of restaurants per capita, behind San Francisco.
"The simple answer is, cooks do not make enough money for the hard, hard job they have.
"It's a really hard place to work. It is loud and rude. Burns and cuts. Poor pay. Long hours," he said.
One of his fellow restaurateurs has gone through four chefs this summer alone, Grice said.
"They see it on TV with Gordon Ramsay, with all these new celebrity chefs [like] David Chang, and it seems like an amazing job, but the reality is there's only a small percentage that actually attains that super ultra cool and lucrative lifestyle."
Can't afford to pay more
Grice, who has been in the business for nearly 27 years, said he pays a higher hourly rate than most restaurateurs in the city, and his restaurants split tips equally among all staff.
He hopes that adds up to a living wage, he said, because he's running out of options.
Others who have tried to do away with tips altogether and charge a higher menu price have failed, said Grice, referring to David Jones' three-month long experiment with Smoke 'N Water in Parksville.
"The system is broken. We need to charge considerably more than we are, and if we did it and if we were the only restaurant to do it, we would be out of business."
Rising food prices, stagnant menu prices
Statistics Canada reported a five per cent increase in food prices overall, and a 14 per cent jump in meat costs between January 2014 and January 2015.
"That hasn't been reflected in anyone's menu, because you're almost afraid to raise your prices by 50 cents, because people are going to balk.
"People do not want to pay for what food is actually worth."
To hear the full interview with Sterling Grice, listen to the audio labelled: Restaurateur Sterling Grice on Victoria's chef shortage.Suggest a correction