A Q&A on Sustainability and Mentorship With Rachel Potter and Brent Savage
Left to Right: Rachel Potter / Brent Savage
Women in Hospitality is once again shining a spotlight on the impact of mentorship, this month honing in on the lessons that Rachel Potter, chef, agriculturalist and sustainability consultant at Cambridge Hill Farm learnt from hospitality heavyweight, Brent Savage.
Why did you decide to get involved in the Tasting Success mentorship program?
Brent Savage: When Lindy Milan invited me to be one of the mentors, and explained the importance of the program, I did not hesitate to take part.
Rachel Potter: Once I became involved in the hospitality industry, it became very clear that I needed to lift my game if I ever wanted to become more than a ‘competent home cook’, which was playing on my mind a lot during my studies. The industry is like a butcher’s hook – once you’re firmly embedded on the hook, no amount of wriggling can shake the passion for excellent food and service.
How does the program work? How often do you and Rachel meet and what do you usually discuss?
BS: The student is allocated a mentor for 40 hours, and those hours can be in one week or across many. Rachel and I met on several occasions over those 40 hours. We went to the growers markets and she worked in our kitchen at Yellow. It was fantastic to work with Rachel because she had the maturity to make the most of her time.
RP: I was assigned Brent Savage at Yellow based on the gaps in my experience. At that point in time, I had been involved in catering and rustic paddock to plate meals but I lacked the finesse of fine dining cooking and presentation. I was beyond thrilled to find out that Brent was to become my mentor! I remember meeting Brent for the first time at Sydney Markets at 6am one chilly morning. It was exciting to meet his suppliers and see him in action with growers and producers. My time with Brent was limited to a couple more meetings (he was traveling to New York throughout my mentorship) where we discussed many aspects of the four restaurants he owns; kitchen management, seasonal produce and menu planning, hatted restaurant standards and collaborations. It was my time spent with his brilliant chefs in the kitchen at Yellow that I found very rewarding. I was delighted to learn new techniques and imaginative ways of preparing and presenting food. I was actually blown away at the level of skill and professionalism that the chefs at Yellow exhibited. They have been and still are an inspiration to me.
Are there particular skills or lessons that you feel strongly about sharing/learn throughout the mentorship process?
BS: Each individual has their own needs and styles of working. I think it’s important to recognise each individual’s strengths and help them work towards their own goals.
RP: I have finished my mentorship with Brent now and I’m extremely grateful for the many skills I learned during my time at Yellow. The kitchen had a very strong focus on fermented food whilst I was there and the chefs were really creative with the sorts of foods and techniques they were using to create natural fermentation. Brent has very high standards in his kitchens and this has become my benchmark also when cooking and presenting food. A surprising lesson was to learn how calm his kitchen at Yellow was. On nights when service was flat out, all his chefs remained cool. If something wasn’t right, no-one raised their voice, everyone just got on with the job. This has been a life lesson for me, not just a lesson for being a chef and working in a kitchen.
How important is mentorship in the hospitality industry? What impact has it had on your career?
BS: Being such a tough industry, mentorship is so important and really helps define who you are and what your goals are. For me, the guys that I regard as my mentors really shaped my career.
RP: I would dare say that mentorship is THE most important thing. Anyone can get their qualification, but it is the invaluable moments spent standing next to a chef who knows their craft like the back of their hand, that will stay with you forever. Money cannot buy this experience. My mentorship with Brent has had a profound impact on my training and my professional life.
What do you think mentees are looking for from their mentors, and vice versa?
BS: As a mentor, it’s really about giving back to the industry and encouraging enthusiastic talent to continue in our amazing industry. Mentees are looking for support to guide them into the next phase of their career.
RP: I’m sure other mentees are looking for someone to guide them, help set them on their path and provide kitchen and life skills to encourage them in their journey.
I imagine mentors are looking for people that show up on time and are enthusiastic about learning. People that find ways to get things done rather than excuses to pardon them from completing tasks. (I’m sure they are looking for a good attitude and a small ego too!)