By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
SOUTHWEST COAST – William ‘Bucky’ Clarke has reached a milestone in his career that not many achieve in their lifetime, 51 years working in an industry he loves. Clarke, who is red seal certified, began his catering career with a job on the Marine Atlantic vessels in 1971 and never looked back.
“With Marine Atlantic, I did 38 years with them. I enjoyed my 38 years. I never had any problems, I met a lot of beautiful people. A lot of the friends I still have, a lot of them have passed on, and since I retired in 2009, I’ve been doing camps, I did the Cape Ray site for 16-17 months and I’ve been going back and forth to Northwest Territories, cooking up there, and I love it. I met a lot of wonderful Indigenous people, beautiful people,” said Clarke.
Clarke said it was difficult retiring from Marine Atlantic after that length of time.
“I made a lot of friends and some I may never see them again. That was the hardest part about retiring from the vessels. We were family on there – two weeks on, two weeks off. You live with these people for two weeks and you get to know them.”
During his last 15-20 years with Marine Atlantic, Clarke was Senior Chief Cook on the M.V. Caribou, and he also worked the Labrador run from Lewisporte to Nain for five summers.
“That was out of this world – the scenery – seeing something different every time you looked outside. It was absolutely gorgeous,” said Clarke. “One of my highlights is with the Salvation Army when we did meals for the truckers. I did 11 weeks with the Salvation Army and cooked almost every meal for the truck drivers that came through during the pandemic. That was a big highlight of my cooking career. It was very special to me knowing we were looking after them.”
Clarke recently returned from his stint in the Northwest Territories, and is always looking forward to the next job.
“I don’t look back. There’s no point in looking back. You’ve got to look ahead. That’s what I always say. You’ve got to look ahead and go for it. The next job, I don’t know where it’s going to be, but I’ll definitely find something between now and September.”
Clarke said that regardless of his age, he will always make sure he finds something to do to keep busy.
“A lot of people look at it and say, ‘You turned 69, you’re getting up in age,’ and I say, ‘Boys, what does age have to do with it?’ That’s probably why I feel so good. I’ve got something on my mind, something to do. Instead of sitting down thinking all day wondering what I’m going to do, I get up and do it. That’s what life is all about. I have 51 years in the catering field, and I hope to get another five or six,” said Clarke. “I don’t care where it takes me, a kitchen is a kitchen is a kitchen. The way I look at it, as long as I’ve got the gear to work with, it doesn’t matter how many people I’ve got to feed.”
As much as Clarke loves the work, he knows there are other things in life that are just as important.
“There’s a lot of people not wanting to go to work, and I can’t wait. That’s my personality,” said Clarke. “You’ve got to spend time with family too. I’ve got three beautiful grandkids and three children. They all live in St. John’s, and I spend a lot of time in St. John’s now also.”
There are things people in the cooking industry have to be extremely vigilant about, said Clarke.
“Right now, my main thing is health and safety and sanitation. Sanitation is the big thing. You’ve got to keep your kitchen clean and you’ve gotta keep yourself clean. You need to make sure your hot food is hot, your cold food is cold. Botulism and food poisoning is a real concern. In my 51 years I’ve never been told that anybody got food poisoning from eating my food. It can happen so you’ve got to be careful.”
With so many years under his belt, Clarke said there have been many significant changes in the industry since he first started.
“The equipment itself has changed so much. The technology has changed, and seeing the rise in the costs of food from year to year is shocking. This month alone, up north for example, in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, everything up there is very expensive. If you want a pound of bacon, you’re looking at $29. Potatoes, last year alone, were about $125 for 50 pounds and the price this month has jumped about 70 per cent. There’s a world shortage right now on potatoes,” said Clarke.
People don’t always get lucky enough in their lifetime to find their passion for a particular career early on and continue work at it every day, but Clarke considers himself one of those truly blessed to do so.
“I love the kitchen. I was born to cook. That’s the way I look at it. I just love it. I can’t say I ever had a bad day. You have your ups and downs, but you try not to let it defeat you. You know you gotta get up by 4:00 in the morning, go at it, and you are probably working until 8:30 at night, 16-hour days, but you don’t let anything keep you down. You stay positive. Chuck Berry was born for Rock ‘n Roll. I was born to cook.”