“I have had many mentors. Perhaps they were unknowing, but the mentor that had the biggest impact on my life was Susan Tulloch,” Nadine Ingram, pastry chef at Sydney’s Flour and Stone said “Susan was my head chef when I was an apprentice and told me I needed to leave Australia to learn more. She was the first female sous chef at The Savoy in London. Just to put that into perspective, the first female head chef was appointed just two years ago – the first in The Savoy’s 126 year history. She told me to write to three places in London for a position as a commis chef and she said ‘It isn’t as hard as you think to get into these places’. All three offered me a job. I chose Le Gavroche and that changed my career and my life forever.”
This is a perfect example of the value of mentorship, Ingram said.
Nadine Ingram, Founder of Flour and StoneWomen in Hospitality (WOHO) is this week launching its own mentorship program, with the aim of helping young women to not only remain in the industry, but to help them reach their full potential.
According to Hospitality magazine, each round of mentoring goes for three months, during which mentees will be provided with a minimum of 18 hours one-on-one contact with their mentor. Mentees will gain hands-on experience alongside industry leaders, and the program will be open to women at all stages of their career.
The first round will be chef and wine focused, and further down the track the program will offer an opportunity for mentees to undertake a brewing scholarship provided by Young Henry’s at TAFE.
Jane Strode, also a mentor for TAFE’s Tasting Success mentorship program, will manage the WOHO program along with the rest of the board, partnering young women with appropriate mentors.
The chefs who will form part of the program include Jemma Whiteman of Good Luck Pinbone; O Tama Carey of Sri Lankan Filling Station, Mike Bennie, wine writer; and industry legend, Christine Manfield.
Strode said she’s excited for the WOHO program to begin. “Back in the 90s I had the privilege of being mentored by the legendary pastry chef, Lorraine Godsmark. Lorraine didn’t just teach me how to make souffles, tarts and ice cream. I learnt how to be organised and efficient. And more importantly how to successfully navigate the pressures and personalities that come hand in hand with any good restaurant.
“Twenty or so years later I can still hear her words when I am training my own new staff members … To be on the other side and to be able to give back is especially gratifying. We are focusing on creating shared experiences that make the passing on of knowledge a treat for all involved.”
Ingram agrees that mentorship is particularly important in the hospitality industry.
“I think all industries would benefit from mentorship schemes, because the issues related to the obtainment of success and learning are not unique to hospitality. [But] I guess in a lot of industries there are platforms of support integrated into the workplace that aren’t present in hospitality. Often there isn’t a HR department to go to if you have a problem and so it’s always good to have a mentor to seek help from. I personally couldn’t run my business without listening to the advice and wisdom of my mentors.”
While inspiration can be sought from any sector, Ingram recommends mentees seek out a mentor who’s had hands-on experience in their line of work.
“I think it helps to have a mentor who is familiar with your industry. Working in hospitality is unique and the politics can be difficult to navigate if you are just starting out. It always helps to have a mentor who can help make sense of it and steer you in the right direction.”
As well as providing practical assistance with particular tasks or the development of certain skills, a mentor can also be a great form of reassurance for budding hospitality professionals.
“Having mentors gives us something to aspire to, but more importantly it proves that someone brilliant has trod the path before us. No matter how difficult you might determine the journey to be, there are those before us who have succeeded,” she said.
Danielle Alvarez, head chef of Fred’s in Sydney’s Paddington and also part of the WOHO program, echoes Ingram’s sentiments.
“Mentorship is extremely important. I think that if you can follow in someone’s footsteps and have a bit guidance along the way the chances you will succeed and continue in the industry are much greater than if you felt like you were figuring it out all by yourself. Women who I considered my mentors certainly made me feel like ‘I can do this’. As women, we have a tendency to talk ourselves down, so if you can build a support network of women who push you forward and cheer you on, sometimes that’s the boost you need when things get tough.”
Ingram reiterates Alvarez’s point. “The thing is, women in hospitality don’t talk about their success. We talk about how hard it is and all the things we could do better. The more we talk about our victories and shine a light on them, the more likely we will be to inspire more women to join our industry. We need to shout it – like men do.”
Young industry members should seek out a mentor who is humble yet confident, as well as pragmatic, Ingram said.
“Have a look around at who is inspiring you right now. Write to them, and make it stand out. Ask them if they can spare some time for a quick chat. That’s your opportunity to see if you have anything you can share with one another.”
The more proactive young industry members are in both seeking out mentors and taking on the challenges thrown their way, the more they’ll get in return. A recent article in Forbes by Chris Myers, the co-founder and CEO of BodeTree, a financial management solution for organisations that serve small business, said the first step in becoming the best professional you can be is to realise you have so much to learn from others.
“I firmly believe that mentorship is the best path to career success, hands down,” Myers wrote. “The benefits that you can gain from a good mentor relationship can outweigh grad school, natural ability, and even dumb luck. The key is to have the foresight and humility to ask to be mentored. If you start there, you’ll find that there are plenty of accelerators in your life who can add value. More importantly, you can take it upon yourself to add tremendous value for them. In doing so, you’ll ensure that you get the most out of the mentor relationship and find success in your life and career.”