What is a Mentor?

We all have someone in our story line that we consider a mentor. I have a few from my journey. It seems that every different chapter brought me someone else that provided valuable insight and guidance. I'm grateful for these individuals. I think that the term "self made" is thrown around too much and frankly, I don't believe in it. To be self made, would imply that at no point, did someone else help you along the way. All of us have had some form of help from different people as we navigate through the world. Whether big or small, that assistance pushed us forward and brought us a little closer to our goals. The word 'mentor' seems to be subjective but I believe that in order to be a true mentor to someone it takes a bit more commitment than just helping them improve while they work for you.

When I worked in NY in 2012, I had a dishwasher named Kyle. I hired Kyle that year when he was 19 years old. He was a good kid. Quiet, but respectful. As I got to know him, I could tell that he didn't have much guidance in his home life and he had a past of getting into trouble outside of work. His record wasn't exactly clean, but I was willing to give him a chance and see what happened. After about 4 months of working for me, I remember him reluctantly walking into my office and asking if I had a minute to talk. He was nervous and seemed embarrassed before he even got to his question. "Chef, should I have a bank account?" he asked. I replied, "it's certainly a good idea. Do you not have a bank account Kyle?" "No," he said. "I heard some people talking about their paycheck going right to the bank and it seems like everyone has the same setup." I explained to him that he should get a checking account set up for his paycheck deposits and eventually he might want to set up a savings account. "What's a checking account?" he asked with his head down, realizing that he was a little behind the banking curve of knowledge. I explained to him what the different accounts meant and why it would be beneficial for him to get set up. Then I asked, "would you like me to take you to the bank and help you get set up? I know you can do it yourself, but I can be there to help you ask the right questions and explain the answers if you want." Kyle got a look on his face as if nobody had ever offered to help him with anything, let alone, a virtual stranger/authority figure. Kyle accepted my offer and the next time he and I had the same day off, I took him to the bank and to lunch after. Kyle stayed with me for the duration of my time at that property and I still speak with him today. I couldn't be more proud of where he is in his life.

I believe as a Chef, that being a mentor is more than just teaching someone how to cook. It's about affecting their lives in a positive way. Providing resources through knowledge that will help them get to where they want to go. A mentor sticks with someone for the long haul. A mentor doesn't completely cut the cord once the person stops working for them. Look at this way. Would you invest in a stock and then forget about it? Or would you keep checking on it to see how it's doing? OK I can feel some of you thinking "well the stock works for me and makes me money." That's true, and perhaps a valid reason to stay in tune with it. The payoff for a true mentor goes beyond how the individual performs in the kitchen. The payoff for me comes from seeing them go out into the world and succeed. Seeing how I've had a lasting impact on their lives and knowing that they're going to be OK after they leave me is my reward.

False mentoring is something that I believe is all too common. I see too many people that have the attitude of, "I will do anything for you, as long as you work for me." Once the formal employer/employee relationship ends, so does the investment. Our teams are our family right? At least that's what we call them at lunch time. So by that logic, we should be able to support them through anything, even if it means they are moving on. Even if they make bad decisions. They need us to help them learn from those mistakes because that's what a mentor does. When it's all said and done, and we reach the end of our careers, hang up our funny hats and reflect, what part of us will people remember? Will they remember that kick ass foie gras dish or how you coordinated a plate up to feed 500 people in 7 minutes flat? Probably not. A true mentor leaves behind a legacy. A slew of people in their wake that will always remember how you affected their lives. People who will likely seek to pay it forward and build their own legacy and reputation for meaningful mentoring. They do this because of the example you set for them. They do it because you showed them how rewarding it can be. This is a chain reaction that I hope to contribute to. It is something that I hope catches on more in our industry because the more selfless and inspiring mentors their are, the further we can advance the value of our industry.


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