For Best Chefs America
A mentor is a person who can tell you that you don't need to get shot to know you won't like it. Advice is a way of repackaging life's more awful experiences with the blessing of hindsight - to save people some agony, and with it the time it takes to find a silver lining.
We asked chefs about career advice, the bites of wisdom that have propelled them forward in a more skillful manner. To rise through the ranks and create sustainable concepts, every chef needs a kitchen vet who is willing to show them what works and what doesn't. It's why the greatest chefs take the time to nurture growth in their successors, because success is meant to be shared.
1) Bill Taibe of The Whelk - a seafood bar & restaurant in Westport, CT - says, "Make sure this is what you want to do with your life. It's very hard to be a great chef and very easy to be a bad one."
2) Ben Cohn of LA's Westside Tavern espouses guidance from Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal, whom he worked for at Postrio in San Francisco. "Don't think," Cohn says. "Just cook." And when you do, cook foods you want to eat and are passionate about.
3) Leonardo Maurelli, who runs Ariccia Trattoria in The Hotel at Auburn University, shares the words of his mentor chef Andy Litherland. "It's OK to move on, to leave a place and seek opportunity. It's absolutely OK to go grow your salary, your position, your career. But before you do, always make absolutely sure you leave everything and everyone better than you found them. It's your absolute responsibility to see to your tasks, complete them, and leave everything better for the people coming up behind you." Maurelli has taken Litherland's words to heart and is better because of it.
4) Mark Graham, formerly of Taste, now runs his own catering company while teaching and helping others through philanthropic pursuits. He thinks about the mistakes he seen and done. Graham used to turn stock into a cloudy mess. He would burn bones when the water was at a rolling boil. That's a technical no-no. Other blunders people make have to do with personality. An insecure, Napoleonic, bossy, overbearing profile is a poor leadership style, he says. Graham has also witnessed the impact of financial naiveté in kitchen rookies.
5) Miles Prescot, executive chef and owner of Rio Mar - a traditional Spanish and Latin American restaurant in the Warehouse District of New Orleans - remembers the advice of his grandfather, who also had dreams to open his own restaurant. His grandfather told Prescot, "Practice first with someone else's money."