While in Cleveland, I met a young man at the Fabulous Food Show who was so excited to meet me, but more importantly wasted no time asking me for advice as he pursues a culinary career. I was flattered, of course, and I spent a few moments answering his questions and fueling his enthusiasm. I’m not sure who got more out of the encounter, him or me. The experience got me thinking about apprenticeship, my mentor Damian Pignolet, and how important having a mentor truly is.
When you think about it, you really have to feel sorry sometimes for first year apprentices. They are often times left with little or no information and can easily be discouraged without the proper guidance to help them know what to expect, and how to deal with those expectations. I firmly believe that applies to life as well as career. Maybe even more importantly, because without a stable core of disciplines, beliefs and codes, we can all get very lost and intimidated. I was very fortunate that Damien saw a pureness and a passion in me that he felt compelled to help shape. I know his input and guidance in my life helped make me the man I am today. Now, as we all should in life, I feel it’s time for me to give back. For me this means working with gifted young chefs and those interested in the hospitality field, but I truly believe that mentoring is an important part in all facets of life.
Apprentices can really get the shaft a little bit, until someone embraces them. If I take on an apprentice, a first year, I really take them on, getting to know them, their family, encouraging sports and things outside of work. I don’t want them to burn out, or get involved with drugs. This industry, hospitality, can be a hard industry unless you are really called to it. With long hours, the physical part, the stress of constant customer expectations and satisfaction, it can take its toll on those new to the industry unless they have the guidance to manage it. Damien was a mentor to me in not just food but music, life, lots of different stuff, and I try to emulate that to those I would take on.
To be a mentor to young individuals, there are two different levels. In the industry, it’s about food and getting them through those first couple of years. Giving them 100% of myself when they need it. In life it’s about personal development. A good mentor gives you the why of life, not just the how of life. I have always been drawn to young eager minds. Kids are enigmatic and I’m drawn to them because, you know, we’re all big kids at heart and because they are eager to learn and expand. They're so easily guided if we just take that a bit of time to show them we’re interested in what they are interested in. When I have a young kid, or young chef in front of me and I have an opportunity to mentor, or to excite a child about an opportunity or being in the kitchen, they lap it up and I think that I’m just drawn to that energy.
I guess I’m trying to encourage you all to reach out and try to mentor someone. You know, mentoring doesn’t always mean full-time, official mentorship. There are opportunities to mentor all the time all around us, if we pay attention, as it was for me with the young man in Cleveland. But whatever the opportunity, don’t miss the chance to reach out, or just offer that moment of mentorship... because you just may change a life.