A chef needs a strong mentor

07 June 2013
A chef needs a strong mentor

Mark Sargeant

It wasn't so long ago that the British culinary scene was seen as a bit of a damp squib, but it's now well regarded and, subsequently, we are seeing hundreds of potentially brilliant young chefs coming through, which is fantastic. However, irrespective of how much promise they show, there is still much to learn, and a great mentor is, therefore, invaluable.

Part of this is instilling in young chefs the importance of going back to basics and making sure they can cook properly, right down to learning the finer points of roasting a joint of meat. You'd be surprised how many young chefs become too focused on modern techniques and neglect the basics, and a good mentor should ensure the balance is there.

A mentor should also help young chefs understand the importance of humility in this business. When I was a young chef myself, I thought I knew it all; now I realise you don't even know your own style at that stage of your career. As a young chef, you often think you are the dog's, which is all well and good, but you will soon be cut down to size if you become too precocious. I was certainly brought down to earth after winning the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain's Young Chef of the Year in 1996.

Thankfully, I had a few fantastic mentors at the start of my career, including David Pitchford, the late Peter Kromberg, and Stephen Terry, who taught me what it takes to gain a Michelin star - but, more than that, how to be an asset in the kitchen and run a business well. Gordon Ramsay also encouraged and inspired me enormously, and I am confident I would not be where I am now without the support of these chefs in the earlier stages of my career.

I now try to do a lot for the education and advancement of young chefs, as they are the future of this industry, and that shouldn't be forgotten. As ambassador for Young National Chef of the Year, I am particularly looking forward to mentoring candidates and instilling in them the importance of mastering the basics and remembering that their ultimate job is to excite customers. If they can add innovation, that's brilliant, but they should stay true to themselves.

Mark Sargeant, proprietor of Rocksalt in Folkestone, is a Young National Chef of the Year 2013 ambassador

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