The Key Ingredients to Becoming Red Seal Certified

Posted 10-09-15 by In Our Graduates


The process of becoming certified as a Red Seal cook is daunting. When HWTC conducted a focus group on this topic a year ago, one kitchen helper compared the process to a “unicorn,” saying:

“It’s like a unicorn, you’ve heard it exists, but you have no idea how to find it.”

Dawn Ulla, Chef de Partie at One King West Hotel and Residence, passed the Red Seal exam on her birthday this summer. We’re just bursting with pride because HWTC was able to play a small role in Dawn’s success.

Even though she was highly motivated to get the certification done on her own, Dawn found the Red Seal process overwhelming. In the past, she’d tried to reach out to employers and teachers to get the required  paperwork done. But when her calls weren’t returned she abandoned the process. Also, Dawn confesses that she’s not very confident about test-taking. In general, exams come with stress and time restrictions the make recall challenging.

All of this stood between Dawn and opportunities to advance in the kitchen.

She moved past these challenges when she connected with HWTC. Here’s why:

Who likes Paperwork?:

 No one!  That’s why HWTC helps Red Seal candidates get their required paperwork in order. This is no small task.

Dawn says that the struggle to reach old teachers and employers kept her from taking the exam. In fact, she says:

“The paperwork is the most challenging part of the exam.”

HWTC put Dawn in touch with a counsellor at Toronto’s Apprenticeship office. Because they know the system, this counsellor helped Dawn get quick results. Our past experience has shown  that, like Dawn, many qualified candidates get lost in Red Seal paperwork . That’s why HWTC provides hands-on support that helps qualified candidates get through this process.

Who Likes Memorizing Massive Textbooks? 

Wayne Gisslen’s textbook, Professional Cooking, is the book that outlines the terms and techniques tested in the Red Seal exam. One problem: the book is over 1000 pages long and weighs (literally) 2.8kg.

Dawn says a weekly preparation course at George Brown, (available for free for those who are eligible through HWTC) helped her zero in on the material that needed her attention. “George Brown’s Real Seal preparation course teaches what’s being tested based on past exams,” Dawn says.

“The instructor told us what to study. Without fail, every single question that was on the exam was something he’d told us to focus on. Otherwise, there’s just no way I would’ve figured it out.”

Also, the course provided tips on mastering multiple-choice exams which, Dawn says “really helped” her feel confident about making the right choice on test day.

Who Likes Homework? 

Every week, Dawn gathered with other HWTC participants to do homework assignments and talk about the material covered the previous week. Dawn enjoyed these study sessions and the sense of community that formed around taking the exam. Often, the participants would take practice tests together and share their results. The group was able to motivate each other.

When Dawn passed the exam she says it was “the best birthday present, ever!” Joe Grado, Executive Chef at One King West Hotel and Residence, celebrated Dawn’s success by giving her two Chef’s knives and  a card from the hotel’s entire management team. Better yet, Dawn’s mom bought her a birthday cake with the words “Happy Red Seal. Happy Birthday” on it.

We asked Dawn to name the three things she’d tell anyone thinking about taking the Red Seal Exam. Here are her answers:

1. Don’t be stressed

2. Go with your gut

3. Sign up with HWTC

Way to go Dawn! We’re super proud of your success!

HWTC is planning to run a Red Seal information session this fall. If you’re interested please call 647-930-9518 or email


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